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?
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?