Sunday, January 9, 2011

In The Aftermath

There's a lot to think about in the aftermath of yesterday's tragic Tucson shooting. I'm avoiding the issue of political motivation, except to agree that the violent political rhetoric in recent years has become too over the top to be acceptable to decent people. I'm also going to skip over Arizona's gun laws, which allow pretty much anybody to carry guns pretty much anywhere. Both are very valid issues for debate, but not the topics I chose to focus on.

Instead, there are two major areas that are in my thoughts in the wake of this horrible tragedy. First, this is really bad for representative democracy. Rep. Giffords was shot while making herself directly available to her constituents, as good elected officials should do. The aftermath of this incident is certainly going to frighten her peers into greatly increasing security and reducing public access. That will be a logical reaction for politicians of all political stripes, very few of whom have the courage to risk their lives just to meet with their electorate. Our system of representative democracy was already seriously endangered by the big money in politics reducing the influence of regular citizens. More and more of our elected officials are distant out of touch elites, and the aftermath of this incident will only increase their isolation from the 'populace' that they in theory represent. In the recent past, I could sit down and speak directly with my (recently defeated) congresswoman, and while I doubt I had any influence on her actual votes, she heard my voice as an actual human constituent. Now members of congress will only be meeting with people who are pre-screened (TSA like) and pre-vetted (donors) in the audience. The bubble of isolation will be expanded and strengthened in the wake of this tragedy.

But the even bigger issue in my mind is the appalling lack of mental health treatment in America today. Long time readers may remember that I spent many years as a mental health counselor, working to help seriously disturbed individuals in an incredibly dysfunctional system. I ranted about this in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, and I'm looking at the exact same issue today. How many times have we heard that a mass murder was the act of a "disturbed" individual? Among my clients when I was a counselor, I had several I felt were capable of acts of explosive violence, and the most important part of my job was preventing that.

Today, we hear the alleged shooter, Jared Loughney's internet postings, and it's easy to conclude that this young man was seriously "disturbed" (I'd bet on a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia) and probably delusional. While I don't know if he or his parents ever sought mental health treatment, the fact is that real treatment is generally unavailable and/or woefully inadequate. Unless you are wealthy, treatment only becomes available after you have endangered yourself or others. Clearly there is no guarantee that counselling will prevent acts of violence, but the lack of treatment does guarantee that we will continue to have more tragedies like yesterday. Because we have very many "disturbed" individuals in our society who need help but aren't getting it in our current system.

There will be an excess of finger-pointing in the media, but I doubt that I'll see much talk about helping the "disturbed" individuals before people are killed. So we'll have more tragic mass murders. It's a given, because prevention by helping people is not one of our society's priorities.


Jerry Critter said...

"...the appalling lack of mental health treatment in America today."

Thank you, Ronald Reagan. His legacy lives on. The man's influence has been truly devastating to our country.

urland said...

One of the things that really had me shaking my head yesterday was how many pundits and politicians (including our governor) were saying how they just could never imagine that this would happen. I guess they really are out of touch.

My short dance with Arizona's mental health system gave me a very bad impression. All the doctor seemed to be interested in was feeding me enough medication to destroy all my motivation, emotion and just plain turn me in to a zombie. Does that mean all of Arizona treatment is that way? Nope. But I suspect it is the prevalent way to treat people who have problems. This is of course only impression on my part, not anything akin to valid research.

We need more resources for all forms of health care.

SweaterMan said...

As we all know, this isn't necessarily restricted to mental health, but is a symptom of the "sickcare" mentality prevalent in our current system.

The goal of the system isn't necessarily to "cure" the problem, but more often to "manage" the symptoms in order to prevent the "disease" from harming the patient even more (or killing them).

Granted, in the mental health area, more often managing the symptoms through therapy or appropriate meds can produce a successful "outcome". However, in our society, the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has been sadly abandoned, and this is especially true in the medical realm.