This is not what I planned to write about today. But this weekend has rocked me as I’m sure it has affected all of you. I do not want to be political or take a stance on gun control. What I want to talk about about it the state of mental health treatment.
As I write this, it has been barely 24 hours since the shooting in El Paso and less than that since the shooting in Dayton. The second one occurred maybe 40 minutes from where I grew up. There is information being delivered on 24/7 news channels about victims and timelines for first responder activities. There are broadcasts of tip lines of where families can check in who still have loved ones missing in the aftermath of these tragedies.
And inevitably there are the stories of the shooters. So similar. White boys; early 20’s. Conversations with friends and neighbors describe them as loners, overly interested in guns and the military. Maybe they were treated for mental illness earlier in their lives. Maybe their parents saw them as “a little off” but never really did anything about it because teenagers go through things. It might come out that they were not great students or they were bullied at school because they didn’t “fit in” with the social norms of high school.
Any or all of these things could be true. On top of the motive that made them ultimately pull the trigger. Because no one can deny that someone who makes the decision to commit mass murder is not mentally stable. And I don’t need to let you know that this becomes an issue that doesn’t get addressed because of the cloud of gun control arguments that take center stage.
Mental Illness is a crisis in this country. Besides your RAD kiddos and possibly yourself, I am sure most of you can think of several people who have been treated for a mental illness. But it continues to be the secret, taboo, non-disease that no one will talk about, let alone take on as a legitimate issue. Insurance coverage is hit or miss. Parents are reluctant to address it with their children. Schools don’t have resources to handle children whose mental health issues move too far outside the box.
Statistics show that over half of all inmates in jail and prison have a diagnosed mental illness. That shouldn’t be surprising. Once an untreated mental illness spins out of control, it is very hard to bring it back under wraps. When children turn 18 and don’t have to listen to their parents any more about medications or therapy (if that was happening at all), behaviors can become exaggerated or even violent. It doesn’t excuse their actions, but to a degree, they are not responsible for their behavior.
I know for a fact that there is a breakdown in the effort to get help for children who belong in treatment not jail. Even with families who are supportive and have the means. When August was in the juvenile system he was given referrals to the behavioral health intervention that worked with the courts system here. We couldn’t get someone on the phone. When we could get someone on the phone they would say they weren’t the person we needed. When we did get someone and got an appointment the red tape was insane. And then even if we did get through the process, and with a diagnosed mental illness already, he never got a day of treatment.
These boys are a result of a system that has failed them. A healthcare system, family and friends, the government who refuses to make mental health a priority and many more. And I’m sure you have experienced this in your efforts to help your RAD kiddos.
I don’t have any answers to all of this. It breaks my heart to have to see these boys whose brains aren’t even done growing yet having their lives cut short because of a disease. Mental illness is a disease. Like chicken pox. We need to treat it with the seriousness it requires and keep this from happening. Protect our children.
Until next time,