In Support of Anarchist Soccer Mom

Today I read this post, on the blog of Anarchist Soccer Mom, about her teenage son, who is mentally ill, and violent with it, and what, if any choices she has to care for him under current US health care legislation.

You should read it.

If you can’t, the gist of it is that there are very few options for her son when he has a violent episode.  She can take him to hospital, which is very expensive. There they give him drugs. Sometimes they work.  She also pays for those.

The cost of this kind of thing is not small. If you are reading this and you are not an American, let me give you an idea of the kind of scale I am talking about. When I was on holiday in Las Vegas a few years ago I had an inner ear infection and had to see a doctor. For a ten minute consultation and two lots of medication it cost nearly £200.

And that was easy to diagnose and treat.

She can take him to see a psychiatrist, which is very expensive, and not a quick fix because it is not clear what exactly is wrong with him.

She has had to give up her job as a freelance journalist and take regular employment because she needs a healthcare package to help pay for her son’s treatment.  If she was still freelance, she could not afford his care.

She has one other option.

This is what she says:

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

So she has to entertain the thought that she has to wilfully put her child into the criminal justice system in order for anyone at all to hear her voice or take her seriously, or offer some kind of mental health care for her son.

Or, she has to wait for him to commit a crime, and pray that it’s not another Columbine, or Aurora, or Newtown.

The crux of her post is that in America, prisons are the holding cells for the mentally ill.

She is calling for people to open up debate about the way America cares for its mentally ill population, particularly in the wake of what happened in Connecticut on Friday.

I think we should listen to her.  I think we should speak up for her.

I cannot imagine anyone else thinking differently, although I’m sure they do.

In yesterday’s post I focussed, in the main, on my feelings about the issues of gun control.  I haven’t changed my mind about this. To me, creating some kind of stringent gun legislation is the first and most obvious step that the US government can take to try to help their people.

That does not mean I do not abhor what is going on with their health care system. I do.

Yesterday I said:

‘Where is the support for your damaged, your mentally ill people, your lost, your lonely, those on the fringes of society who need treatment and help?

Oh, that’s right, there is nothing, because I bet you don’t approve of Obamacare or any form of free health care or welfare either? Because after all, that is just one step nearer to living under communist rules.’

What kind of a world is it where a parent has to hope that her child will be incarcerated in order for him to receive the help he so clearly requires? What kind of a world is it where people who are ill are treated as criminals, or simply ignored until they are so ill that they become the criminals people already think they are?

I am not saying, by the way, that in the UK everything is perfect on this score. It most definitely isn’t.  There are cases in the newspapers almost every day of some poor soul being overlooked, or mistreated, or broken by the systems we have in place here.  And there are undoubtedly people in our jails who would probably benefit more from treatment for mental health problems than being punished for crimes.  Just as, if we hadn’t failed them in the first place, they might not be there at all.

And I have written enough posts criticising the NHS in the past that you know exactly where I stand on that.

But at least I know that if I need help, there is a system in place to help me, imperfect though it may be.

At least I know that if one of my children turns out to be like Michael, I don’t have to consider the idea that getting him or her into a prison may be the kindest thing I can do.

At least I know that if I need treatment I do not have to bankrupt myself to get it, or worse still, have to put it out of my mind as an option because I know I can never afford it.

In these situations, when the issue of mental health comes up, I think; ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

Long term blog readers will know that I had a nervous break down at the age of fifteen.  For months I could not eat or sleep or function.  My parents sat with me while I had a bath. They held my hand as I tried to sleep.  They sat with me as I sat for hours and hours crying until I thought I would dissolve with the pain of it all.  Their whole life, and the life of my brother became subsumed in my illness, and they weathered it all with grace and fortitude, and they helped me when I could not help myself.

It was not easy for any of us.

But we all knew, that if things got any worse, that there was help. There were drugs, and counselling, and psychiatric help, and hospitals where I could go, and where people would try to help me if they could, and I would not be treated like a criminal, because I was ill.

We took up some of those options in the darkest times.

I got better.

I cannot say I am cured. I don’t think you are ever cured of something like that.  You have good days and bad days. You learn to find coping mechanisms.  You learn to pay attention to yourself and realise when your responses to things are out of proportion, when you are sliding back into your illness, if you are lucky.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Life is a balancing act most of the time. I have to be careful.  I have to manage myself with care.  Sometimes I mess up, and life gets pretty intolerable for a while.  That’s when I get help.

I am lucky that I can get help.

But I realise how easily and how quickly you can change from being one of the lucky ones into one of the unlucky ones.

I do not struggle with mental illness on purpose. I did not ask for it. I am not fucked up because I didn’t study hard, work hard, or because I took loads of drugs or drank myself stupid.  I live a pretty privileged life, but it is one which is constantly over shadowed by what could be, and I wrestle with my demons every single day of my life.

And I am not saying that people who become victims of mental illness because they have messed up somewhere along the line are any less deserving of help, by the way. I’m just pre-empting the criticism of the ‘work hard and pull yourself up by your boot straps and all will be fine’ brigade.  Sometimes you can work as hard as you like and you still end up broken.

And once you are broken, it is very, very hard to put yourself back together again, even with help.  So how do those who receive nothing manage?

They don’t.

I dread to think how I would manage if I didn’t have a fantastic, close knit family who love and support me.  I dread to think how I would manage if I didn’t have financial support.  What would happen to me, if in the darkest of times I didn’t have access to the professional help I sometimes need?  And then, what would happen to my children?

How do people like me, people worse off than me, hold down regular employment when there are times when life is just too hard for them?  How do they care for their families, feed and clothe themselves, let alone pay for medical treatment?

What would happen to me, to my family if we lived in the States, and I were going through this?

Why do we privilege those who already have enough? Why do we reward those who are rich, and successful, when they have what they need already? Why are we not helping the broken, the lost, the ones who are in the gutter and wouldn’t even know which way to look to find the stars?

Why can we not seem to accept that we are only a hair’s breadth away from these people ourselves, and that sometimes there isn’t even that to separate us?

America, it seems to me, as an outsider, and I am willing to be corrected here, is a pretty God fearing country.  Church still seems to be a fairly fundamental (and I use this word advisedly) part of most communities.  Certainly, when you turn on the television here to watch some kind of disaster unfolding, the Christian community seems to be out in force.

So where is the compassion for the underdog? Where is the care for those on the fringes of society?  Where is the living proof of what is at the heart of Christianity?

Jesus was an outcast.  Jesus was poor.  Jesus spent time with the ill, the mad, the poor, the losers.  He showed us how to live by his example.  He championed the people everyone else vilified.  He even went so far as to die for them.  Jesus was not a winner.  Jesus was not a success.  Jesus was an outlaw who died an ignominious death at the hands of those in power who he was brave enough to question.

So why are we still punishing people like him? Why are we still standing up for the oppressors and not the oppressed?

He said: ‘He who is without sin, let them cast the first stone’

Anarchist Soccer Mom says:

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help.

She is not the only one, is she?

We all could be.

I said, in an earlier post that I couldn’t imagine hating enough to ever do what people like this young man did. But actually that’s where I am lucky again, I guess. My illness has never manifested itself in violence or hatred, only despair, and it is a kind of despair that stops me from doing anything at all.  But really, we all could be those boys too, couldn’t we? If we were being honest.  Or at least more like those boys than we would feel entirely comfortable admitting to ourselves.

We all, sometimes, tread that line between normal and fucked up, and sometimes that line is so fine it is difficult to tell which side of it we are on.  Sometimes, some of us slip over that line for a while.

Hopefully we come back again.

Some of us don’t.

But if we were to help people before they could step over the line, maybe that would be enough, and even if it weren’t enough, it would be something, which has to be better than nothing. Right?


25 responses to “In Support of Anarchist Soccer Mom

  1. A young friend of ours killed himself a couple of weeks ago – he had mental health problems and due to the closure of the local hospital unit for the mentally ill when he phoned to ask for help was told he’d have to wait until after the weekend for an appointment at another clinic. He began to have violent thoughts and decided that to kill himself was the only answer. He wrote a letter explaining why he was doing it and sent his apologies to those he knew would be devastated by his death, his parents, his young child, his friends and his social worker. Watching the news reports of the school shootings I understand why he felt his suicide was the better option but still feel devastated that he’s gone.

    • My sympathy to you. How terrible that this should happen. It is a shame that we are failing those in need wherever they are. A terrible, terrible shame.

  2. Katyboo, while I agree with everything you say, I want to highlight that the present British government is doing less and less for the mentally ill and vilifying them at the same time. It is getting harder to get treatment, as another mother has said local units are closing and the level of care is falling all the time This is at the same time that the number of those suffering from mental illness is rising. As someone with mental illness this state of affairs is terrifying and, like you, I’m one of the lucky ones with family and financial support. I agree it would be worse in the US, but let’s not get complacent,
    So yes we should highlight what’s going on in the States, but we should equally be aware and vociferous about what’s going on here.

  3. Katy, I shake my head in despair over this whole situation. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up overseas, but I don’t understand the debate over healthcare in the US any more than I understand why my co-citizens are so adamant about their rights to own weapons designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. I don’t understand why American Christians – who are followers of a man who gave up everything to care for the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised – are so reluctant to pay some extra taxes to ensure that all people have adequate healthcare. My best guess is that there is some deep-seated vein of stubborn independence- one that makes *them* get to be the ones to decide who gets help and when – not the government. My guess is that the majority of the people who oppose this sort of thing are either very wealthy, very well insured, or simply fortunate enough never to have been in an awful situation where they had to choose between losing their house and paying for chemotherapy for their child.
    I did read this woman’s blog post, by the way, and one of the things that I found shocking was the hostile and accusatory comments left by so many readers. According to them, if she’d just been a better mother and cut the gluten out of her son’s diet, she wouldn’t have a problem.

  4. Well said Katy – and the previous commenters. I too read Anarchist Soccer Mom’s post and all of the comments left – far too many of which were indeed hostile and accusatory just as Ms Caroline has said. Such a shame that the USA cannot or will not divert at least part of the vast sum of money spent warmongering and use it to the betterment of their own population.

  5. Nearly fifty years ago i had to acompany a doctor on his rounds as his own car had broken down, talking to him i realised that he had an accent, it turned out he was american doctor working in our national health service, a rare thing even that long ago.
    He told me that when he was about twelve a friend of his had died from an easly curable illness except his parents had not got the money to pay the hospital and they had refused to treat him.
    Some years later he qualified as a doctor and he made a promise that if he ever had a patient who could not pay he would never refuse them treatment.
    It turned out that following this policy made him very unpopular with fellow doctors as doctoring in the U.S.A. is big bussines and they will not stand for anybody stopping the gravy train, so much so that he found it almost impossible to practise.
    At about this time the n.h.s.had just come in to being and he moved england to be part of it, a very brave thing to do.
    I asked him his opinion of the system, he said it is not perfect but no health system ever will be but he had never had to turn a single person away because of inabilaty to pay and that alone makes it the finest system in the world.
    He then added that if any politacal party suggested privitising any part of the health service fight it to your last breath, that is unless you are prepared to stand at the graveside of somebody who died purley for lack of money.
    Remember this happend in the U.S.A. over sixty years ago/it appears they are not fast learners.
    I have one question to ask WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
    Every long journey starts with the first step.
    Katys proud dad.

  6. and the tragedy is the good old USA is hailed as a 1st world country, a land of opporunity where everybody is treated with respect or provided with help. Maybe they need to take a step back and take a good look at themselves for a change instead of policing the rest of the world Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2012 13:10:04 +0000 To:

  7. You make hearfelt points, Katyboo.
    And Well said, proud Dad, whose last 3 sentences truly resonate with me. It’s so true that each one of us makes a difference.

  8. Katy – the Soccer Mother’s piece has made “front page” headlines on a major news site here in NZ

  9. Michelle
    That is fantastic. I hope her words spread and spread

  10. The blog writer should not be criticized. There is no help for emancipated mentally ill individuals. they don’t or won’t take medication prescribed. Often they do not even acknowledge the condition. Society is against the stigma of mental illness and therefore there are no long appropriate facilities for the dangerous mentally ill. So they live on the streets or in neighborhoods with family members who go through great pain.

  11. I live your life, too. We are fortunate that my 11 yr old son has been in counseling since 5 yr old. Scary tantrums. Climbing out of car seat to hit and bite because we were not taking the usual route home.The knife threats in past few years. Was at very exclusive boys school until last year. Incredibly smart. School really did all they could. Private school, so not equipped for autism spectrum kids. Now at private school for kids with ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, Dyslexia, and depression. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers Disorder last spring. Medicine and regular therapy are extremely important. Meds for ADD and ADHD will make lots of Aspergers kids more agitated. Allergy meds and cold meds can make them have meltdowns. We are on Trileptal, Respiradone, and generic zoloft. My son prefers to be alone. We are working on social skills. It has been hard. My precious son does not deserve this. He does not want to be this way. Unfortunately, this is my child’s cross to bear. Our family together carries the weight. Stay strong. Most of these problems are neurological… The way the brain functions and the actual physical development of the brain. The psychological issues usually come from feeling different or feeling hurt. The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner all of these behaviors make sense and can be treated.

    I cannot begin to know how the parents and families of the victims of Sandy Hook. My heart aches. I have cried. I have felt scared. Something must be done to prevent anything like this happening again!!! These babies were taken from their parents. Babies!!! God help us all.

  12. I am another mother of a violent, Asperger’s Syndrome, adult son. I have tried desperately and repeatedly to get him hospitalized. Last year, he was held for a week in an Emergency Room, placed in four point restraints and medicated against his will. However, mental health could not find a psychiatric bed for him in any hospital. When he finally ‘threatened’ hospital staff because they would not release him and could not find him a bed, the hospital let him go, and then charged him with felonies. He was then sent to be evaluated to see if he was ‘competent’ to stand trial – which of course, they decided, he was. He has still received no psychiatric care, or hospitalization.

    I am terrified daily and have no idea what to do. He does not belong in prison – he has never even graduated from high school and does not understand the simplest things. He cannot drive, has never worked, and needs considerable assistance in daily living (shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.)

    Mental health laws need to be changed. A hundred years ago, my schizophrenic aunt was dropped off by her family at the state hospital. She was cared for and visited until she died in old age. Her family was able to go on and live normal lives and know that she was safe and not a danger to anyone else.

    We need to reopen the long-term psychiatric hospitals that were closed in the sixties. It is not humane to have our mentally ill population in prison cells and wandering homeless on the streets. It is impossible to hospitalize anyone when they must confess that they are ‘suicidal’ or ‘homicidal’ in order to be admitted against their will. If they are admitted, they are released within two weeks on some medication regime, which they are usually unable to maintain without inpatient support.

    How is it that dangerous mentally ill people are free to wander about to commit horrible crimes? And yet we worry about gun control and right to bear arms. Mental health laws urgently need to be changed so that the families of young men like Adam Lanza can make certain they get help, and can make certain that other people’s children remain safe.

    Honestly, as parents of mentally unstable individuals, we are desperate to help society, and our own children to be safe.

  13. From a mom in the US: We have “private health insurance plans” available to us (at a fairly high cost to income ratio) but virtually none of these plans include mental health coverage. No one should be surprised, then, at the connection between the recent shootings in the US and mental illness.

    I have always found it maddening that mental health is a “non-covered” service for the majority of people in the US. Basically, you have to become impoverished in order to get any kind of mental health insurance, and by then, you are often so ill – this is tragic. As well, the people working in the low income mental health field are underpaid and overworked to the point that the system is utterly overwhelmed.

    The people in our family have very good physical health and do not need physical health care, in general. (I would forego physical health care coverage if I was offered mental health care coverage, if I could only pick one, but, of course, that is not even an option.)

    No one should wonder that many people in the US with mental health issues exhibit mental illness. Mental illness is what occurs when mental health care is not available. This situation is sad, but it is true. It needs to change. The best way to subtract the mental illness part of the equation from these complicated cases of mass shooting, is to offer high quality, low cost mental health services here in the US.

  14. What you describe is crazy. Which is ironic and terrible.

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