Thursday, February 28, 2013
In 2006, while speaking to a group of nursing students, one of them asked me about a country western singer named Mindy McCready and her increasingly maladaptive behavior. Since I had never heard of her, the student went on to describe her mental health and drug issues, and how it derailed her once promising career. It was on that day I began to pay close attention to this famous artist.
Tragically, with all that I learned about her life, it came as no shock when I recently discovered that she finally succeeded in killing herself with a gunshot wound to her head. Immediately, I pulled out a file that I have accumulated on her, and went straight to a CNN.com story from July 18, 2006. It was one that discussed her recent arrest for a DUI. On the bottom, I made an ominous prediction when I wrote, "this will have a bad outcome". Even back then, I believed that she would die prematurely from either a drug overdose or by her own hands. I hoped that I would be wrong, but with her outward behavior, I knew that was unlikely.
A close examination of her life is what made that prediction so easy to make. She hit the pinnacle of her career at a remarkably young age and from that point, began her downhill spiral. Her first album took Nashville by storm, but she was unable to sustain her success. After that, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic abuse and family dysfunction followed her every move.
When others reflect back on her life, they discover that she was a metaphor for being "used and abused." As a teenager, she had an alleged affair with former major league baseball star Roger Clemons, a married father of two. Though he denies those claims, Roger Clemons can best be described as having questionable integrity. Add to that arrests for drugs issues, DUI's, prescription fraud, plus she was once beaten so severely by a boyfriend that he was charged with attempted murder, and her demise became quite clear. Embarrassingly, another former boyfriend released an unauthorized sex tape of her, and with so much misery accumulating, there was now a recipe for disaster.
It is common knowledge that all the love in the world does not cure a chemical imbalance, so it can be added that fame and wealth also fail as a treatment mechanism. No matter what Mindy McCready accomplished, she could not escape her inner demons, which were always present and grew stronger over time. However, she did not go down without a fight, as on more than one occasion, she checked herself into rehabilitation to try and control her condition. However, she could never overcome what was torturing her, and apparently, she did not continue her treatment as prescribed.
Another person who did manipulate her was one that used therapy as a rouse to entice her and others on television. She was exploited on a show called "Celebrity Rehab" with someone named Dr. Drew. He brought her and others on a show to pour their hearts out as a way to exorcise their demons. Sadly, it was more exploitation for ratings than anything else. It bears mentioning that five individuals who appeared on that show over a two year period have ended their lives by suicide, and the idiot doctor still defends his methods. Those comments alone are proof that stupidity knows no bounds.
It should come as no surprise that if a person attempts suicide, that individual is highly likely to try it again, and she contributed to that statistic. There were four other documented attempts, three by pills and one by slashing her wrists. All ended with short stays in a rehab facility, and failed to stop Mindy from continuing her degenerating condition. That alone is evidence that she was planning her exit strategy years before she finally succeeded. It was as if, like many others, she kept reaching for help and was never able to find that metaphorical life preserver.
It is difficult to see what was the last stressor that caused her to end her life. It is evident that the death of her boyfriend a month before in a similar fashion was the final tipping point, but the seeds of this destruction were planted many years ago. It must be added that as of now, the police are treating his death as suspicious, and Mindy McCready was questioned several times. Though it appears to be a suicide, this impression of being involved with possible foul play could have contributed to her already fragile emotional state.
One point must be made. Most suicides are not the result of one specific incident, rather, it is the culmination of a series of events. Keep in mind these factors can be real or fictitious because that person is cursed with clouded thinking. Over time, these events tend to add up until the individual can find no way to end their suffering, which leads to such tragic outcomes. The best comparison is a boxer getting battered with body punches until it finally breaks them down, rather than one large knockout punch.
One other issue bears mentioning. It is not common knowledge that the first two weeks after leaving a hospital for a mental health crisis are a critical time. This is a period when there is a high risk for suicide, and there are many theories for this phenomenon. My impression is that a hospital provides a protective shield from reality; the walls are there to stop the demons from invading the mind of its targets. Once that person leaves the hospital, it is as if time stood still on the outside, and the emotional malignancy that drove them to seek treatment is there waiting to resume its attack. If the individual is not prepared to accept this realism, the truth can be overwhelming, and have catastrophic results. It appears that this could have contributed to her death as she killed herself 11 days after her release.
Society tends to judge people who die of suicide in a demeaning fashion. People have already judged Mindy McCready unfairly and with condemnation. I have read where some said that she wasted her life and threw it all away, meaning her fame and talent. What these individuals fail to understand is that addiction and mental illness are sadistic and traumatic conditions. Like everyone else afflicted, she had to wake up every morning and start her day by battling her inner pain. It is a struggle that cannot be understood by anyone who has not suffered as many people do so in silence.
In the end, she joined an unending line of people who finish their lives as a way to escape the pain they suffer. I have written about many, a young girl from Vermillion Ohio, a successful businessman from Elyria, and the son of a Super Bowl winning head coach. Tragically, this list will continue to grow, until we as a society begin to develop a concerted effort and investment in treating and understanding these disorders. So far societies track record is decidedly limited, and the future does not appear any brighter. Rest in Peace Mindy McCready!
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
As the fog of shock from the December tragedy in Sandy Hook school in Connecticut begins to vanish, we witness cries for reform that are best described as the theater of the absurd. Instead of searching for avenues to prevent future tragedies, this country's leaders are once again pointing fingers of blame at the wrong people. One group clearly singled out, the National Riflemen's Association (NRA), has been disgustingly compared to the NAZI's. This in spite of knowing that its members are for the most part, hardworking, law abiding citizens. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg of stupidity.
On a personal note, I have been speaking out for years about substandard care in the mental health system. In this tragedy, like others in Tucson Arizona, Aurora Colorado, and on the campus of Virginia Tech University, mental illness was the nucleus of the cause. To be more specific, it is a system ravaged by budget cuts, reduction in the number of beds, and in many cases, scarce available treatment. Once again, these misunderstood disorders are getting a vast deal of attention, but it is evident that it is the mentally ill themselves are being made the scapegoats, and not the failing system. It does not require a great deal of searching to discover proof of that wrongful indictment.
Not long ago, Juan Williams, a Liberal Fox news correspondent made a comment that only added to the hysteria on this emotionally charged issue. He said, "If you have a mentally ill family member, the government shouldn't let you have a gun." This was on top of the startling announcement by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, who is now advocating "a national registry of those with mental illness" be established to make us feel safer. Both have shown a remarkable lack of awareness of mental illness, and their proposals just marginalize those who suffer in silence. These comments, which border on bigotry, play well with ignorant people, but do nothing but add to the burden that the stigma of these afflictions create.
Not to be outdone for attention, Vice President Joe Biden added to this madness of stigmatizing those with mental illness by declaring that people afflicted cannot be trusted. He proposed that there should be a mental health check for everyone who owns a gun. Though he used this as a forum to garner support from a fringe element of society, it once again, degrades everyone who suffers from these malady's. This coming from a man who once had to drop out of a race for President because he plagiarized his speeches. Simply, he stole the work of others.
I have heard and read many different newfangled solutions to this situation, but many seem to fall just short of sewing a "Star of David" on the clothes of those suffering with mental illness. Sadly, it is not that much of an exaggeration to believe that is what these "three stooges", Biden, Williams and LaPierre seem to be advocating. Next, I am anticipating the call to round up mentally ill individuals, and march them into a resettlement camp. After all, that was what a former mayor of Avon Lake Ohio once wanted to champion.
Illuminating these individuals lack of coherence, is none seem to understand that no visible lines can be drawn as to where mental illness begins and ends. No true test exists that can be given to diagnosis someone; it is simply a syndrome of symptoms. These individuals live by the motto, never let facts stand in the way of a good headline!
Now, focusing on the real issue, the problems in the mental health system are no secret and have been known for quite some time. It is the lack of proper funding and laws that have been in need of updating for several generations. It is also the broken promises from deinstitutionalization. However, with each tragedy, the calls for reform are almost always ignored, or placated with minor corrections that do not require significant increased expenditures. However, this is a time for some genuine dialogue and corrections, not stupidity being lead by the likes of the Joe Biden's.
With his recent proposals, President Obama's approach to this issue was to make tokenistic gestures on improving access to mental health care. It is clear that these minor changes are nothing more than a way to camouflage his true obsession, which is gun control. Much worse, his uncalled for attacks on specific media outlets and NRA members do nothing but inflame opposition to any real conversation that could bring positive results.
Recently, I contacted the offices of Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, and Congressman Jim Renacci. I asked one question, which was "Since tragedies in Tucson Arizona, Aurora Colorado, and now Newton Connecticut, why are there no proposals to overhaul and repair the mental health system?" I did receive statements from both Senators press secretaries, but never received a response from Congressman Renacci's office.
Senator Brown's office wrote about being a father and grandfather and how this tragedy in Connecticut affected him. One comment did stand out. He said, "we must start a sensible dialogue about gun safety in our communities, and reexamine our mental health system."
Though his words sound promising, my question to Senator Brown is; How can we have a sensible dialogue on mental illness and guns, when so many outrageous comments are being made, specifically on the liberal left? A notable example is actress Marg Halgenberger, who wished through her twitter account that members of the NRA get shot! Add to that the racist comments made by political exploiter Michael Moore who said, "Calm down white people and put your guns down!" Instead of condemning these useless idiots, and opening the door to a real conversation, we have only silence from Senator Brown's side of the political spectrum.
Senator Portman said, "He supports a commission to examine and report on the root causes of tragic incidents like the horrific school shootings." My response to him is clear. We do not need a self-serving commission to tell us what is wrong. It is the dismantling of the mental health system that is the main culprit. He also ignores that two of his supporters here in Ohio, Speaker of the House William Batchelder and State Representative Nan Baker are two of the most complicit architects in the destruction of Ohio's Mental Health system. If Senator Portman is serious about correcting the failures, he needs to start by condemning the arrogant behavior of these two individuals, who represent the political right.
For these political leaders, I do present two solutions, and hopefully, there will some real actions and dialogue, but if history is any indicator, that is highly unlikely to occur.
Assisted outpatient treatment was the catalyst for the failed deinstitutionalization in the early 1960's. This was the idea that people could be released from long term facilities and have community centers available for them to have their treatment monitored. It bears mentioning that the Democratic party, who ran all branches of government at the time, never supplied these promised facilities, and the patients were eventually left to fend for themselves. This led us down the path to the current crisis in the mental health system, which is increased homelessness, suicides, and aforementioned tragedies. Though long overdue, it is time for the promises made in the 1960's to be finally realized!
Next on the agenda should be to modernize the laws regarding civil commitment. Under current statutes, unless the individual is an immediate threat to themselves or others, there is no legal avenue to have them forced into treatment. In the murderous rampage in Tucson Arizona, the perpetrator, Jared Lee Loughner had a history of severe mental illness. Shortly after the killings, it was discovered that his family attempted on more than one occasion, to force him into needed treatment. However, they were unable to do so because the laws allow people like him to walk around in a delusional state. Now Loughner is receiving needed treatment while he is doing a life sentence for the killing of six people, and wounding twelve others. With modern civil commitment laws, it is likely that his parents could have had him in a hospital receiving treatment, thus avoiding this tragedy. Ironically, there has been nothing but silence on this aspect of that tragedy.
The proposals that I have put forward are ones that have been discussed at length by many advocates, and have been largely ignored by political leaders. Just imagine what would happen if we did embrace these changes. We would see less homelessness, fewer suicides, less family dysfunction, reduced disability, and yes, we would diminish the likelihood of future tragedies. What a novel idea, real solutions to real problems! When was the last time we witnessed that from this country's political leaders?