Tucson Tragedy

I don’t feel much like blogging today.  As pretty much everyone knows by now, a 22 year old man shot 20 people here Saturday morning, killing six, including a federal judge and a nine year old girl.  One of the wounded (critically) is Gabrielle Giffords, my congressional representative.

I don’t know Congresswoman Giffords personally, but I admire her.  In my opinion she’s one of the most sensible and intelligent politicians serving today.  With so much volatile rhetoric out there, she urges civility in public discourse.

This act of violence has affected not just Tucson emotionally, but Congress, the judiciary, NASA, and two major league baseball teams through their connections to the victims. This wasn’t an act of nature like a tsunami or an earthquake, but I wonder if it was really any more preventable?

This event will once again spark debate about the relative merits of protecting our various freedoms vs. reducing relative risk, and our grief will add heat to the debate.  Let’s try to be civil, too.

 

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Tucson Tragedy

  1. Thanks for sharing from your heart, Frankie. This horrible event was just a vivid reminder of the battle in the spiritual realm for men’s souls. Unfortunately, this particular battle also stole people’s precious lives. Praying for all that are hurting tonight—the whole country.

    • Thank you for commenting, Elaine.

      The souls I hope see the light are those of our government officials who have been cutting funding for mental health the last three years. Back in the 60’s, we had more mental health hospitals for residential care. Now as soon as a patient shows the least improvement, they’re released with a “good luck” and a pat on the back — assuming he gets any care at all.

      But mentally ill people and their families aren’t a rich voting block. What would they cut from the budget to pay for additional care? Subsidies to big campaign contributors like tobacco, Big Pharma, or Big Agro?

      Yes, this is a battle for men’s souls.

  2. Hi Frankie… I haven’t felt much like working myself since this happened. Whether it was preventable or not? Yes. I believe so. We don’t know all the facts about the shooter’s family background yet, but we do know that his parents were present at the meeting where PCC kicked him off campus until he was willing to return with a mental health evaluation from a professional. Clearly, that was a large warning event, and it didn’t happen a week ago. There was time to anticipate the pressure cooker that was about to explode, if only those trained in how to handle these issues had been invited to become involved. If I recall, the Virginia Tech shooter had mental illness problems, too, and they never got around to taking action to remove him from the school, it was still circulating in memo fashion as a question about whether something should be done at all. We know how treating that problem with paper and regulations turned out, and we remember it years later. Seems we learn nothing from history and it is doomed to repeat itself.

    Based on my own experience of having to live with a mentally ill parent whose family refused to face what was plain for everyone around them to see, and worse, enabled and defended the sick individual using religious nonsense, I’d like to point out that people do not just snap, there is a build up. With few exceptions, there are many, many warning signals. It takes a lot for a community college to boot you to the curb. They need the money badly. And, I wasn’t intending that as a joke. In this economy it’s especially relevant.

    What, if anything, Loughner’s parents did after attending that meeting with PCC officials isn’t clear yet. But sooner or later this country will need to deal with mental illness as the real disease it is, instead of treating it like a wart that needs band-aiding. We need to stop hiding the highest national incidence of mental illness (2-3x that here as compared to other countries) behind the inevitable bipartisan squabbling, gun regulation laws, religion and anything that smacks of convenience for us and requires the least amount of real effort, civility or personal respnsibility. I admire Giffords too, but if we can’t learn to reach out past our fears, predjudices and a complete lack of national education on this problem, and act to help those who are in real need of understanding and medical attention, then no, it’s not preventable and we’re likely to see more of the same. Good thoughts and prayer are always welcome, but it’s action that’s needed. That sounds pessimistic, but it’s not. We’re capable of doing something about this. Once our grief has passed, we must if we want to retain our civil liberties and prevent history from repeating itself.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Roxy. I agree, it does seem that there was ample indication for the parents to have acted to prevent this. I don’t know what the financial consequences to them would have been if they’d chosen to commit him involuntarily. If they don’t have adequate mental health coverage it might have been prohibitive.

      This raises the question of why the Republicans are putting eviscerating the funding for the Health Care reform bill at the top of their agenda — despite independent, non-partisan information that it will save the country billions. Other developed nations think the U.S. astonishingly backward to not offer universal health care. I’m beginning to think they’re right.

      Financial considerations aside, I know from personal experience that it’s very hard to admit that a loved one is as ill as they really are. Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t have the same stigma as mental illness, but even so, it was hard for me to admit that my dad needed to move to a higher level of care. I’m not alone in this, and how much more difficult must it be to say to yourself that your son is potentially a danger to himself or others? Unfortunately Loughner’s parents must now live with that harsh truth and grieve not only for him but for all the lives he damaged.

      • I’m rather upset myself at what the tea party Republicans are proposing. After seeing proof that their intended actions to repeal the Healthcare bill will raise our deficit by billions, it seems rather obvious to me it will make our financial predicament worse. It seems politically motivated upon closer inspection and it is that which disturbs me most. I’ve certainly had enough of government spending my taxpayer dollars solely to support political agendas. I wonder how you can claim to save the country money by adding billions to a deficit already out of control? That’s just a shell game: moving money around while taking time and effort away from the real issues that need our attention. And, it will again leave us without universal health care. I’m convinced that we are backward in that regard. We really need more coverage, not less, particularly for those with children and who cannot afford to pay huge medical bills out of their own pockets (which is most of us).

        I can’t imagine what Loughner’s parents are going through as a result of this. I agree, it is very hard to admit that a parent, child or any family member is ill. I know it was especially difficult for my own family who never did come to grips with it in the end, even after my ill parent died. My other parent had the additional pressure during my childhood of all of their spouse’s relatives insisting that no, that person was not ill at all, and that there must be something wrong with the healthy parent for thinking so! And of course when I turned 18, it was then all my fault and I was considered a bad person by the whole family as “an only child who did not financially support the ill parent completely for the rest of my life,” and I was then berated for not having them come to live with me until they died. Seriously. Who in their right mind would do that to a child? As you know, I tossed the lot of them out, but that was me and how I dealt with it. I was not someone who bought into my family’s religious mea culpa act. I know many Catholics I grew up with who did and have led unhappy, tragic lives as a result. Not everyone is capable of breaking away from a systemically unhealthy and guilt-ridden environment. When you are mired in it, healthy perspective is difficult.

        The covering up of mental illness and the enablement by family members of the ill person is usually based on the stigma you mentioned. That’s part of the greater problem this country faces: understanding that mental illness is a real, and treatable disease. We now realize that mental illness is not behavorially-based alone, as was once thought, and that most can be treated with great success from chemical and physiological approaches. The severe lack of education in this country about the disease itself makes it all the more difficult to overcome that stigma. I’m not sure what the answer to that problem can be? And, unfortunately, the mentally ill often leave more victims in their wake than is ever apparent, since most do not act out violently, but nevertheless have a significant emotional and psychological impact on all those in their lives whether they are parents, spouses, siblings etc.

        This is the thing that is most concerning. It begs the question how do we acknowledge and help the victims heal from years of abuse when they don’t present with gun shot wounds at a hospital or with something more tangible? How do we do mental triage? Some victims will heal on their own over time, but some are unable to address it at all, often leading to perpetuation of more abuse and illness. This is one reason we have an epedemic of it (I just read it’s 1 in 4 people) in this country. That’s a sobering statistic! We have so little in place that encourages us as a society to reach out to victims and to the mentally ill and instead seem to have this unspoken agreement to look the other way, to feel that people should be allowed to live their lives without others sticking their nose into their neighbors affairs, etc. (True only up to the point where people are being hurt). It’s more common to see someone reporting animal abuse than asking for assistance on behalf of someone disturbed or for one of their apparent victims. Perhaps there’s a fundamental, cultural shift that needs to occur before we can address this at the level where it usually gets swept under the rug? One thing is certain, as you pointed out, cutting medical funding is not a solution we should even be considering.

      • the mentally ill often leave more victims in their wake than is ever apparent, since most do not act out violently, but nevertheless have a significant emotional and psychological impact on all those in their lives

        And since families often hide the fact of their loved one’s illness, no one gets any help. Even if families do seek help, they can’t force non-violent patients to take their meds.

        This is one reason we have an epidemic of it (I just read it’s 1 in 4 people)

        I question this statistic, especially if it comes from an organization that’s looking for funding. It’s in their interests to make the problem seem even bigger than it is. It seems a little high to me.

      • Yes, it’s true you can’t force a non violent patient to take their meds, but in AZ you can at least force an adult family member to obtain a mental health evaluation if you have sufficient cause. In this case, a community college stating the belief the person is a danger to themselves and other students would have been sufficient under the state law to have the evaluation done and permissable in a court hearing. But how do you get to that point if a family can’t even admit there’s something wrong? This is where our problem lies. How can you solve a problem that the WHO says affects 1 in 4 if no one understands that it has been that high for years. In this particular case, it’s starting to look from the evidence like the father of the shooter had issues himself. And, just conjecture, but if the wife was afraid of both of them, that leaves her isolated and unable to get help for them or for herself while in a hostile living environment.

        Regarding the 1 in 4 statistic, I hate to disappoint you because I wish it wasn’t remotely that high, but it’s true, and there are many references to this statistic. I imagine the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health would both love more funding, but I question whether we should dismiss their findings, which go back a decade and are still valid according to these resources, on the remote chance that the research might have been tampered with due solely to funding issues? I believe I read the statistic initially in either an ABC or NPR article, but here are some of the sources they were likely to have used:

        http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15939837
        http://www.oneinfour.info/ (this appears to be a local org)
        ….and this BBC article from 2001:
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1578755.stm states
        One in four people around the world will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives, according to a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
        http://www.myasha.org/node/12
        This following site has a breakdown of types of mental disorders by prevalence in populations: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/m/mental_illness/prevalence.htm
        WebMD also has some good references for statistics.
        Several UK-based articles have questioned the 1 in 4 statistic as it pertains to Britain’s population because of diagnostic procedures and definitions used, but the statistic seems to still be valid in the U.S. as far as I can tell from the current sources. If I find the NPR or ABC news article I read yesterday, I’ll post the link.

      • Addendum: The reason I couldn’t find the article online from that day was that I heard the statistic first on the Diane Rehm show on NPR Radio… Her show references the following site:
        http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=press_room
        Once at the Nami site, if you click on the data/statistics links below the intro it brings you to a file that shows all the numbers, including detail that 1 in 17 suffer from “debilitating” forms of mental illness including schizophrenia. This means that the 1 in 4 statistic includes everyone who suffers from any mental disorder, including temporary depression during a given year. So it is inclusive of folks who come out of their diagnosis with short-term treatment. Still, 26% of the population is just too many.

      • Thanks for the references, Roxy. A 60 Minutes piece this last Sunday stated the numbers as 20% incidence of mental illness, with 5% seriously impaired. Even if it’s “only” 1 in 5 instead of 1 in 4, that’s still too many people suffering to ignore.

  3. Since 60 Minutes is a news program and not a study source, I would question whether they got their data correct, since that would imply that the many existing references I quoted: the WHO, NAMI and the NIH, all have incorrect (as currently posted) data on their web sites. But perhaps 60 minutes quoted a more up-to-date clinical study that the health organizations haven’t integrated into their figures as yet? In any case, whether 20 or 26%, I agree it’s too much… I just can’t imagine what is the answer to lowering the incident rate? It seems to be a systemic problem, since the cause itself is not the lack of medical care or coverage — those are only additions to the existing issue of frequent occurrence. The really disturbing thing is that the statistics only include what we know, and very little data on those who experience depression or other problems but never report it, but eventually work through it or become well on their own. That suggests the figures are still not high enough.

    • I was curious since I’d missed the CBS 60 mins segment this past Sunday (16th) that I think you’re referring to (the one about Loughner I assume?) I was hoping they would name the study they were referring to, but there were no statistics given at all during that segment, except that they referred to a study two researchers did in 1999, prior to the WHO study. Theirs was for the secret service though, specifically about assassins in jail and in hospitals that they interviewed. But even there, they gave no statistics related to mental illness or other studies. There were four other segments that episode but none of them were about mental health or illness. Maybe it was another segment you’re referring to, do you have the name or url for it? Here’s the one from 1/16, Sunday, that is viewable online: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/60_minutes/video/?pid=6seHddnag8e9zY631LEQkF5OEMkvNck2

    • I haven’t made the time to read your sources yet (I’m sorry), but I was wondering if their subject populations were all drawn from industrialized nations? Different cultures have different interpretations of the symptoms we call mental illness.

  4. This note from my original source post addresses your question I believe?…
    This following site has a breakdown of types of mental disorders by prevalence in populations: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/m/mental_illness/prevalence.htm
    (This includes the WHO/NIH definitions of mental illness, encompassing all forms of depression). No idea whether the method used was uniform or adjusted for by cultural factors.

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