HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THE MENTALLY ILL?
Our present mental health policies and practice are both complicated, confusing, and too often tragically consequential. For those who have suffered with mental illness and those who must take medication to keep it under some kind of control, and retain stability, there are many challenges. For those who live with a family member who is mentally ill there are other kind of challenges. For those in law enforcement, those in emergency medicine, and those in mental health clinics and hospitals there are still more challenges. This is at one and the same time a very personal issue, a family issue, a church issue, a community issue, and a political one. It becomes political because dealing with those who have mental problems costs money, and the decisions about where that money will come from, and how it will best be spent require diligence and sacrifice from the community. Not only that, the wisdom, or lack of it, in how that money is applied will make an impact on the entire community. It is complicated because the very science of helping those with mental illness often begs the desired end of being healed as therapies, drugs, and regimens are too often hit or miss and unsettled. The idea that if no one you personally know has a mental problem then this doesn’t concern you is a fantasy. It might affect one you some day soon by a homeless person who accosts you on a street corner, it might affect you by someone deciding to fixate on you, obsess over you, and decide he or she needs to kill you. It might affect you by having one of your own family members be diagnosed as Bi-polar or schizophrenic, or a neighbor, or a church member, or by one of your children’s classmates deciding he or she needs to start shooting at your son or daughter. Once those things happen you will begin wondering how come we haven’t spent more money on this problem, how come we don’t have better solutions, how come the police seem to have such few options, how come the prison system has become our largerst mental health care facility? You will wonder, and you will ask questions, but most likely unless you start a national movement nothing will change, and you will be one more sad story in a contiuing line of tragedy. This is not to suggest that the millions of people with mental problems are all potential murderers. Thank God that is not the case. Millions of people suffer, take medicine, live with supporting families or in group homes, take part in community services where their behavior in monitored, attend churches, schools, and social activites like the rest of us, and are loved. However, the reality is that those with very aggressive tendencies, those who isolate themselves in paranoia and fantasy, those who sometimes create grievance out of thin air, and those who stop taking prescribed medication because no one has the authority to monitor and insure that they take it, can be suddenly explosive; if not a constant sense of dread and threat to those they have decided to harrass. Not everyone who is mentally ill has been diagnosed, not everyone who has been diagnosed had medicine to take, or takes the right kind or right amount. Not everyone who has decided on their own to stop taking what has given them some state of normality is observed until things get out of hand. Not everyone who is conscientious about taking their medicine can predict what will happen if they have other medical conditions that force them to stop taking what had heretofor controlled their thinking, moods, or behavior. I hurt for families who have tried to love family members but have seen their own children or siblings become a threat to them. I hurt for those families who have been forced to have family members become homeless because they could no longer contain or constrain them. I hurt for those who have made call after call to get help for someone only to be told there is nothing that can be done, except maybe for a 72 hour mental health observation period, if they are a threat to themselves or others. Of course, sometimes, this just makes someone really mad once they get out. I hurt for those who feel they have to arm themselves and get ready for what seems to be a showdown as their lives and families have been threatened. I hurt for police officers who risk their lives as they have to sometimes confront and subdue such individuals who normally would never have disrespected authority or sought to hurt anyone. I hurt for those in such despair over their behavior they seek to end their own lives. I am a Christian, and I believe in showing compassion. I am a Christian and I believe Christians need to pray for healing. I am a Christian and I believe churches have to have more ministries and training in how to help and serve the mentally ill. I am also a brother who was raised with a mentally ill sister who was a constant physical threat to me and my family. I have been a pastor and seen people I dearly loved, and who once loved me, become a terror to the church and their own families. I am an American, and I am sometimes ashamed that we seem to have given our best mental health care to those with “cadillac” insurance policies, while warehousing a lot of others in the prison system, and leaving thousands of families and communities to their fate in not knowing how to adequately deal with someone they would love to see healed, but now fear.