Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Dialogue

I am not about to get political with you over what happened in Arizona this weekend (my husband does that much better and with more color than I do), but I don’t want to remain silent either. I’ve been trying to come up with something to say in addition to the expression of sadness and outrage over this tragedy, and I think the area in which I’m most equipped to make a comment or two is not in the debate over what is and isn’t acceptable political rhetoric, or whether or not you should have to jump through more hoops to buy a gun than you do a car. It’s this:

If any good dialogue comes out of this mess, please let part of it be about mental illness and access to treatment.

Did Loughner have access to mental health care? Did he seek it? Did he even know to seek it? Did anyone who cared about him urge him to get help? If he had wanted help, would he have been able to afford it?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but for most people who suffer from a mental illness, the answer to each and every one of them is almost always NO. And the result is all too often a life of debilitating sadness, occasionally suicide, and in this rare instance a mass killing.

My contribution to this dialogue: don’t be afraid to tell someone you care about that you are worried about them. You guys did that for me, and you saved my life.

  • sugarleg

    thanks Heather. a brutal and complex issue. appreciate you lending your voice to the part that resonates with you.

  • deepthoughts78

    Agree! It is time that mental health issues leave the realm of taboo so there is more acceptance for asking for, suggesting, and getting help.

  • zipbagofbones

    I’m amazed this hadn’t occurred to me until you said it. I struggle with dystymia, anxiety and seasonal depression, yet the shooter’s mental health hadn’t even crossed my mind. You’re right, this is a conversation we need to have.

  • writtendad

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Jon does do quite a fine job of addressing the political (wonderfully entertaining as well as insightful) but this is something that I hadn’t even thought about. That’s probably ignorant on my part, but this is a great post. Though short, this says a lot.

  • mustangfilly

    I live in Tucson, just miles from where this tragedy took place. That is one of the first things that came to my mind: the shooters mental status. There were signs and events that pointed to the fact that he needed help. Either the attempts failed or no one reached out. It is even more sad when events like this could have been avoided, had someone just reached out.

  • cupcake

    Agreed wholeheartedly. As an artist with two jobs and no insurance of any kind, I constantly struggle with this issue. It breaks my heart to try and support loved ones who struggle with no access to treatment. In these hard times, the lack of affordable care on all fronts leaves too many in the cold.

  • Leahbee

    Great blog post about this very thing at Jezebel:
    “It’s hard to say what, if anything, would have helped Loughner, and Marcotte doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. But she does point out that although his school demanded he seek therapy, he didn’t do so — possibly because finding and paying for therapy in America is still extremely hard. Writes Marcotte, “If a community college student with poor access to health care needs contraception, she knows who to call: Planned Parenthood. We need something like that for people who find themselves in need of mental health services.” A Planned Parenthood of mental health care would help the many, many people in this country who are suffering from mental illness and don’t know where to turn. Most of these people are not and will never become violent, and getting them the therapy they need wouldn’t reduce the national murder rate very much. But it would reduce the number of sick people who can’t find help — and that, in itself, is a worthy goal.”

    Read more: http://jezebel.com/5729833/better-mental-health-care-wont-end-murder-but-it-will-save-lives#ixzz1AfidLyZ9

  • girlplease

    I do agree but also saw excerpts from people who had contact with him including a teacher who said this kid was odd, she wanted him to get help because she said that violence was a long way coming. Mental health reform laws have changed where we can no longer commit someone beyond 48 hours of being a suspect to harm others or themselves UNTIL they actually do, then you have a beyond 48 hour commitment or trial or both (as in this case).

    Do I agree that we should encourage those we love to get help? Yes. Do I agree that there is a huge stigma regarding mental illness, even the non-violent kind? Yes. Do I agree that the “system” fails people time and time again including those who actively participate in getting their own help? Hell yea I’ve been through it.

    But to say that no one raised flags or encouraged this person to get help, that isn’t true. Sometimes people are too far gone and too determined with their agenda to have this be prevented–for the good of all.

    I’m sorry but I agree with your intentions but I disagree with your statement.

  • Aly Beth

    Did you see this week’s episode of Gray’s Anatomy? It rang eerily close to this story and explored your sentiment.

    I agree.

  • Annie Rhiannon

    “Did Loughner have access to mental health care? Did he seek it? Did he even know to seek it? Did anyone who cared about him urge him to get help? If he had wanted help, would he have been able to afford it?”

    I’m quite shocked that this hadn’t occurred to me at all until now. And I’ve been reading a lot about the case over the past couple of days.

  • strawberrygoldie

    What is the next step after that? After you have told them that, in my case, you are worried about their child? And you were met with anger and denial?

    This has struck a painful chord with me.

    The 12 YO son of an old friend of mine (and BFF to my son) seems to me to be hurtling down this path of violence, despair, sadness. It has become so frightening to me that I have cut off ties with them. Her refusal to see the situation, to do anything about it…I feel completely helpless. DSS has been called by another friend of mine. Whether anything has come of that is unknown to us.

    What can be done? THIS is why events like Arizona occur. Parents who refuse to SEE, and children who repeatedly slip through the cracks of teachers and social services.

    So, so sad. So disheartening.

  • thedaydreamingfool

    Wonderfully articulated, as per usual..

    I think that people also need to know not to be worried to admit that THEY have a problem, that they need help..because there is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that..in fact..I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who can and are able to do this..

    I think that people being scared to admit something may be wrong has been one of the biggest issues facing mental health…at least in my eyes as a young woman who grew up with an unmedicated bipolar mother who is normal as normal can be at times..most times…and who can ‘lose it’ (thankfully nothing to this degree, but often getting scarily close..) more times then I could even begin to count..

  • girlplease

    Leahbee a lot of universities have mental health facilities within their system. I do believe it’s the stigma attached to it including fear of medication, fear of impact of their grades/admissions (like in this case they said mental therapy it up or you won’t be allowed to come back). And in this case note that they were proactive in telling them get help or you can’t come–which could have avoided a whole V-Tech incident.

  • Redneck Mommy

    Well said Heather. I hope for the very same thing.

  • seven2seven8

    Hearing about this event saddened me beyond measure. If better access to mental health care will save any life (one which would otherwise be lived in misery, one which would otherwise be taken by suicide, those which would otherwise be taken by homicide), then we must invest in and ensure access to mental health care. Our reluctance to talk about mental illness in this country is truly tragic.

    Gabrielle Giffords, the other victims of the attack, the city of Tucson, and their loved ones are in my prayers.

  • Shan Last Shreds Of Sanity

    Yes, he had access to metal health care. Yes he was told to get some mental health evaluations before he could return to college. His mother works for AZ Dept of Health Services.

    Either no one cared or they were oblivious to his issues. That still does not negate the fact that he murdered six people, including a 9 year old girl and it was premeditated.

  • luv and kiwi

    Refreshing and poignant question! Thank you for that…I feel like you’re getting to the heart of the real issue.

  • Sarasnee

    This is the most mature thing I’ve heard about this debate the whole time! Kudos. Not to ruin your immature reputation or anything. Go on with the poop.

  • apostate

    I don’t think there’s any medical treatment for being a zealot. Wasn’t this motivated by religion? That’s what I read.
    This takes me back to Trolley Square in our own lovely Deseret. Yeah, I remember back then there were a bunch of stories in the News that were written to make me feel sorry for Sulejman Talović, that pathetic excuse for a human being. I remember when his father, in the painful aftermath, had the audacity to tell a reporter that his son was “forgiven” in the eyes of God.
    I’m damn near out of sympathy and understanding. And I’m tired of kids at school being blamed or the mental health industry or whoever.
    Some people are just shits.
    And these Westboro shitheads make Boyd K. Packer seem like a reasonable guy.
    All I’m saying.

  • McLeonardstein

    That is exactly the 1st thing on my mind after reading his youtube postings.

    I worked in mental health care system in PHX (same entity as Tucson) for several years. If you are diagnosed SMI it is free. Which I am pretty sure after reading about him, I would guess he is SMI. Sadly, as a case manager I had to quit before I needed mental health care. You are supposed to have 20 on your case load, I had 90. I was getting paid $12/hr as a college graduate, and coming home crying as I could only help so many. SO many fall through the cracks. I had clients I would petition for DTO/DTS only to have them released on the streets hours later due to overcrowding. I could not handle the stress of if a clent hurt someone I could not stop it.

    I think the entire nation needs a complete OVERHAUL of mental health care!

  • psweet

    How can you say ‘for most people who suffer from a mental illness, the answer to each and every one of them is almost always NO?’

    Do you know most people with mental illness?

  • mycouchhascrumbs

    Like so many others have said, this didnt even cross my mind when I heard this on the news. But of course it makes sense, who in their right mind would? I should know better, so many of my family, my own mum whom I love, suffers and has struggled for years and years with depression. I myself struggle with it from time to time. Thank you Heather, for being you. For being that voice, because this is a subject that doesnt have enough people speaking for it. Just thank you.

  • Anais Nin Grrl

    Budgets have been cut for mental health in Arizona. Here is an interesting, well put summary of mental health in AZ: http://desertbeacon.blogspot.com/2011/01/maintaining-our-mental-health-tucson.html. It’s a subject of great interest in Jan Brewer’s priority list (she has a son in a state hospital with mental health issues). Mental health budgets in Maricopa County alone (Phoenix) have been slashed appr $60 million in the last 2 years. See article: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2010/06/28/20100628arizona-budget-cuts-health-mental.html#ixzz1Aa6irwvi.

    It saddens me so much. I had a close friend in Phx who is now serving time in prison because he stabbed/killed an acquaintance (stating that demons told him to do it). The reason I believe this is because a couple years prior to this incident, he used to tell me he heard voices (demons and angels fighting in his head) and the demons told him to do bad things. He tried to get help from the state. He WANTED help but, he didn’t have the $$ and the state didn’t have the $$ or resources to help him and they just turned him away. It’s so sad that so many people are left out on the streets. Now he is in the prison system and I just wonder what could have been done to prevent it.

    Thanks for raising the issue in relation to mental health. Arizona really needs mental health funding and help!

  • Aunt_Lala

    As the granddaughter of a paranoid schizophrenic, I am probably a little more sensitive to this issue than your average bear. Thank you, Heather, for bring the mental health aspect of this tragedy to the forefront.

    My local newspaper had go a whole separate way with their story, and decided to point out the fact that the shooter is a “long time pot smoker and loner”, as if smoking pot is what brought him to the point of no return. I think that’s what angered me the most of all the blame games being played, that pot is the cause.

    Regardless of what ultimately is the cause of the shooter’s actions, we are all responsible for taking steps to try and prevent such a thing from happening again. If making mental health treatment available AND AFFORDABLE is one of those things, then let’s get on it.

  • kim at allconsuming

    A friend of mine had the horrific task of agreeing to turn off the life-support for her husband yesterday.

    Her husband who turned 34 last week.

    Her husband who hung himself the following day.

    He leaves a wife not yet 30, two small small children and myriad family and friends shaking their heads with hearts so full of pain it seems impossible.

    Those questions could also be asked here, in Australia and sadly the same response, NO, would be the main response.

    Horrendous and in our societies just so very unacceptable.

  • beachreader

    “That still does not negate the fact that he murdered six people, including a 9 year old girl and it was premeditated.”

    Well said….and he knew right from wrong. He may have been mentally ill, but that is no excuse for what he did.

  • KCAKelly

    You posted a link to this on Twitter, and at first, I was hesitant to see what you had to say. I honestly haven’t been to your blog in a while, because I grew tired of reading your partisan banter. I paused for a moment today, and followed the link hoping that this is what you would have to say about Arizona.

    I do not believe it is for anyone to say who or what influenced this young man, but rather that we should ask ourselves how his mental illness went untreated. A neighbor of his was interviewed, and said she had no idea he had such mental problems until she Googled his name after the tragedy. She couldn’t understand how his strange behavior went unnoticed. Unfortunately, I feel that mental health issues are stigmatized, and still very much hidden in our society.

    Thank you for bringing attention to the real issue at hand. Let us hope that as a result of this horrible tragedy, our nation can come together regardless of political affiliation, and turn off our TVs, and put down our papers, and start paying attention.

  • GrubStreetNM

    rE: Did Loughner have access to mental health care? …Did he even know to seek it?… If he had wanted help, would he have been able to afford it?

    He know how to seek college algebra and afforded college tuition. He knew how to see purchasing the gun and afforded it.

  • val0552

    Thank you Heather, for bringing attention to this topic and using your vast platform to spread the message. The sad truth is that even people with decent health insurance may not have mental/emotional coverage or be covered to see the provider that best meets their needs.

    My son exhibited signs of depression by the age of six years old. Do you know how many child psychiatrists exist and how many accept insurance? Too damn few, that’s how many. I count myself as one of the lucky families that could afford to pay out of pocket to access the resources we needed but then I think… look at the train wreck that Britney Spears made of her life a couple years ago. If someone with practically unlimited resources could not/would not get help, that should send a message about how significant the need is.

    Sadly, even the healthcare reform act fails to address this issue and I fear that, given the new requirements mandated by legislation, insurers will reduce mental health coverage over time. I hope I am wrong.

  • spedrson

    Amen! My mom is bipolar and recently diagnosed schizophrenic on top of that. She is so fortunate to have family that can make sure she’s taken care of and gets the meds and help she needs. It is shocking how many people do not have that kind of help or refuse the help.

  • amyruthanne

    I’ll admit even I’m a little embarrassed to talk about having been on Prozac before, or having gone to a therapist, and that I went through a cutting phase…twice. Because society has given all of that a stigma, including issues like depression, suicide, etc. I wish it wasn’t this way and perhaps if I spoke out more – and others did, like Heather – these stigmas would go away. And people would get help. And people wouldn’t be afraid to share their stories. And we maybe we can improve lives, instead of taking them.

  • Monsboys

    Tucson is my home, I was born and raised here but this could have happened anywhere. I also have a 22 year old son who suffers from severe depression…. and this is where the comparisons end. The biggest difference between the killer and my son is hate. My son carries no hate in his heart like the killer did. Even the picture of Jared in federal court today shows a smirk on his face, WTF!! I’m just saying that I think there is mental health issues and some people that are just evil.

    Maybe this is too close to home for me. I am angry, I want answers and want to see remorse. I know that won’t happen.

    It’s a sad week for Tucson, and our nation.

  • dooce

    Ongoing mental health care, especially for someone suffering from paranoid delusions and/or schizophrenia (I don’t know what his official diagnosis is, but all signs point in this direction) would far exceed the price of a gun if not the price of tuition to a community college. I spent four days in the hospital and it cost almost $7,000. And that was with excellent health coverage.

  • bellamaxjoy

    This issue has so many sides to it. I so agree that mental health issues are swept under the rug, politics aside, the news are not even touching on the issue of his mental health. They are trying to make it political, and that is making it so people are not seeing the big issue, mental health. But someone earlier made mention of the mental health laws in effect, and it is so hard to make someone get help that doesnt want it.
    Keep this in the forfront, we need to make the media focus in the correct direction.

  • stationaryrunner

    I created an account just so I could comment. I agree with you 100 percent. What is particularly sad here is that people noticed that this man had an apparent mental illness, but no-one really stepped in to do anything (not that I am blaming his community college – but ideally schools will have resources for their students, and teachers will know what those resources are). The following article did a nice job of discussing these issues: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/health/20campus.html

    As a graduate student and college teaching assistant, I can say that I see my own students (usually between the ages of 18 and 22) struggle. Even for someone *without* a history of or genetic tendency for mental illness, the stress and the expectations and the process of making the transition from teenagerhood to adulthood create psychological landmines.

    I have struggled with anxiety and sometimes depression my entire life. I can’t remember a time – until this past year – when my existence was not a roller coaster. On a whim (because I was starting to feel like I couldn’t stand myself anymore), I contacted a psychologist and started therapy two days later. It was a difficult step. I cannot adequately describe how much it has changed my life. Just asking for help – and feeling that it was OKAY to ask for help – was transformative.

    Clearly what this individual did was not “right” in any way, or acceptable. What happened was a tragedy, and at this point it is right to focus on the victims and their lives, legacies, and what they and their families have lost. But eventually I do hope that this will open the door to more open dialogue about mental illness. I so wish that we could TALK about mental illnesses more openly so that they are seen not as character flaws, but as treatable medical conditions. One of my goals this upcoming semester – especially in light of what has happened in Tucson – is to listen to my students, offer a willingness to hear them out if they need a place to vent, and read up on the free psychological counseling at my school so that I can point them to (or even walk them to, if need be) helpful resources.

  • Robynne

    I have worked in health care for 25 years and of course this man is mentally ill. I will bet my first born that he has no access to adequate mental health care as is the case for many, many Americans. I hope this unfortunate incident is finally the wake up call to our law makers that all isn’t well in the world of the average American citizen. How do you like living in the world that you have created? “The greatest health care system in the world” is I believe what Mr. Boehner said recently. Those of us who aren’t rich or privileged have been “exposed” to this kind of carnage in our everyday lives for the last few years. Unemployment, ill health with out insurance protection, disappearing 401K’s, foreclosures, it goes and goes. The system of untreated illness will be the final collapse of America. Mark my words.

  • bellamaxjoy

    This issue has so many sides to it. I so agree that mental health issues are swept under the rug, politics aside, the news are not even touching on the issue of his mental health. They are trying to make it political, and that is making it so people are not seeing the big issue, mental health. But someone earlier made mention of the mental health laws in effect, and it is so hard to make someone get help that doesnt want it.
    Keep this in the forfront, we need to make the media focus in the correct direction.

  • baxter

    It is impossible to get a loved one treatment if they are unwilling regardless of the cost. I have been trying with my brother for over four years. The only time he got any help was when there was a very serious suicide attempt and even then he was released within a week. It continues to be a devastating and painful situation for my entire family. We watch him spiral downward and self-medicate with meth. Yes meth.
    Last I checked, Riker’s Island, Cook County Jail, and LA County Jail are the largest mental health institutions in the nation. The system isn’t working and we all suffer the consequences.

  • sherylwx4

    Amen to your post Heather.
    From what I’ve read about this, and watched on TV is that, Loughner had an obsession with the Congresswomen. Apparently this obsession started well over a year ago when he first met with her at a different public meeting she held.
    I just don’t think this had anything to do with
    politics. I think it just happens to be were he could shoot her at.
    I know people want to blame this on Sarah Palin and gun control but really, lets stop blaming the laws and look at how many people in his life failed him. Everyone around him knew there was something odd or demented about him yet he didn’t get to get help. It’s so sad.
    I feel sorry for everyone involved, especially the 9 year old girl.

  • 30Locke

    Even if someone had encouraged him to get mental help, it would have been up to him to actually go and get it. His delusional state likely prevented him from even realizing that he was ill. As others have pointed out, it is difficult to get an adult to be committed for mental treatment if they are not overtly suicidal or homicidal. I guess my point is that even if he could have afforded treatment, it doesn’t mean that he would have gotten it.
    My sister has a mental illness, but since she is an adult, the rest of my family and I are powerless to get her help. We have all confronted her about it and it only pushes her farther away.
    This is a complex issue without a simple answer.

  • Amy J.

    Having dealt with lifelong mental illness with an inlaw, that ended in suicide, I can say that help doesn’t always help. She got years of help…counseling, countless meds, both forced commitments and voluntary, family support (which she shouldn’t have after a certain point to be honest, because she was abusive to her elderly parents), shock treatments, jail time…for more than 40 years. In the end, she killed herself, but not before threatening family and friends MANY times.

    It was like her mother said…and it is HARSH to hear…she would have either hurt herself or someone else, eventually.

    Sometimes help doesn’t, well, help…sadly.

  • melissamurphy

    @baxter

    You wrote: “It is impossible to get a loved one treatment if they are unwilling regardless of the cost. I have been trying with my brother for over four years. The only time he got any help was when there was a very serious suicide attempt and even then he was released within a week. It continues to be a devastating and painful situation for my entire family. We watch him spiral downward and self-medicate with meth. Yes meth.”

    I cannot agree more and have watched my Father and Brother suffer very similarly. If the person does not want to seek help, they do not have to…despite what everyone around says or does.

    The flip side of this is that there is so much more to learn about treating people with mental illnesses. The one size fits all approach we take to medicine in the US does little to further advancement in this area.

  • tiny apple

    well said. this guy caused a lot of pain and sadness, but you are right – to an extent he may be a victim of circumstance and while that doesn’t excuse what he did, it does remind us that mental health issues are real and need to be addressed.

  • DeeDubs

    It is extremely difficult to get paranoid people into treatment (without violating civil liberties). Not a always matter of access or “reaching out” with these folks.

  • missioncat

    This country is making me sad, all the political crap going on, Palin bugs the blank outta me, but that aside, he does seem a bit evil with the smirking and probably no remorse what so ever for the acts he committed. I think it is ridiculous that you can buy a gun at a store for $500 or whatever and have no background check, when someone is asked to leave school and asked to get help by their school, there should be some sort of database that red flags this person and makes it impossible to purchase a semi automatic! or any type of firearm. It makes me sick to my stomach that good people have to die for such foolishness. Heather, I am glad you reached out and the public helped in saving your life, but I think you are a kind and compassionate person and very together, this young man is clearly not.

  • g.b.

    Yes. I was talking about this yesterday with my mother, who was similarly upset; was there no one in his life close enough to A) see how far gone he was, and B) care? Was he so isolated that no one saw what was coming? So utterly, utterly tragic.

  • KathyRo

    AMEN! I so glad somebody said something about this. Although the other topics are important, I feel this is the #1 issue at the heart of this terrible tragedy.

  • beccad

    Wow, Heather, your post today motivated me to register so I could comment. It is so easy to condemn the actions of those who commit heinous acts without considering that if someone had recognized their problems and cared enough to get them to seek help, maybe the outcome would be different. Closer to where I live, a Deputy Sheriff, Suzanne Hopper, was shot and killed on New Year’s Day by a man with mental health issues. There are examples every day. It doesn’t make the acts any less horrific, and my deepest sympathy is with the victims and their families, but it is a reminder that those who commit these acts are victims, too.

  • debcon37

    Great post Heather. YOU saved my life, since we were both going through the same sort of stuff at the same time since Leta and my Dani are just a few months apart. I may have continued to wallow and who knows what could have happened.
    I am so glad to be able to read this here. Terrible tragedy in AZ and my thoughts and prayers are with all involved.

  • greenplanner

    One can’t even say ‘the system’ doesn’t work because there IS no system. Last year in my town a young man died while jumping from a moving ambulance because no one believed his parents when they tried to explain just how disturbed he was. Another young man died from multiple taser shocks administered by the police when his family attempted to have him placed in a psychiatric facility. Their excuse was that he had become violent and they had no choice. NO FUCKING SHIT he was violent, he was paranoid schizophrenic. As a society we are unbelievably ignorant about mental illness. We need to do better.