Another tragedy, another missed opportunity?

Yesterday’s horrific massacre in Newtown, CT has grabbed every bit of media time and attention throughout the social webs and stratosphere. Most of all, it’s moved your erstwhile lazy blogger to resume his blogging status because this opportunity can’t be missed.

Everyone is of heavy heart today and while I may disagree with a lot of the politicking I won’t disagree with the reaction. What happened yesterday was truly awful and only someone subhuman would not ask “what can we do to prevent this?” However what happens next is the easy route – blame the inanimate object. It’s far easier to point your finger at something that can’t point back on its own. So, there we have it, blame the gun, walk away from it all and feel better.

What’s missing is the true soul searching that needs to take place – the soul searching about mental illness and how we handle it in our society. These warnings have been there before and the circumstances have been very similar.

In 1988 Laurie Dann, a woman suffering from what we now call bipolar disorder as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder walked into a Winnetka, IL school with three handguns and opened fire. Fortunately she only took one child’s life before taking her own hours later.

In 1999 Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris staged a savage attack on Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. Klebold was a depressed and easily manipulated child who had been taking mental health medications for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Harris was an undiagnosed malignant narcissist and likely suffered from paranoid personality disorder. They were both bright and had little difficulty securing a cache of weapons to bring into the school that awful day.

Earlier this year James Eagan Holmes, under psychiatric care and texting a friend about dysphoric mania days before, walked into an Aurora, CO midnight movie showing after sneaking out the back door to his car to retrieve his cache of weapons and proceeded to gun down various member of the audience.

The first similarity is, again, the guns. People wanting to just move on and get past trying to explain the inexplicable go for the gun as the easy way out. What they fail to see in all these cases, including yesterday’s, these are children of privilege and affluence. There weren’t any economic or logistical barriers to these people getting help. In fact, in all the cases except for Harris they did get help.

The barrier that was there though is a social one. It’s very hard to try to change society and so people would prefer to just continue to blame the gun because, after all, it saves them from blaming themselves. We are all responsible for this happening because of the way we treat people with mental illness – they are the dregs of society, they are to be shuffled aside and cast off and left to be dealt with by their families.

Maybe, as a father of a child on the autistic spectrum I know this pain and pressure all too well. I know the looks from across a restaurant as my son engages in a completely normal behavior (for him) of stimming. It means he’s enjoying himself and is nothing I wish to stop. When he was 8 years old the police were called to his school at the behest of a teachers aide who had put him in a hold during one of his “meltdowns”. He was beating his head against her and she insisted the police be called. The officer asked to interview my boy and I promptly let him know that was not going to happen, his interview would only compound my problem. What did happen I came to find out was he was drawing and wouldn’t stop so the aide yanked the pencil away from him thus inducing the meltdown.

This is the way we deal with mental illness in society – we stare, we force to make it stop, we call the police to lock it away. Dann’s parents were accused of refusing to admit she had any kind of problem yet they went to great lengths including enrolling her in a special program at the University of Wisconsin. Harris and Klebold’s parents have been demonized as those who ignored the problem and in Kelbold’s case tried to “medicate it away“.

I was a lucky man, people who understand mental disability set up New Connections Academy in Palatine not far from where I lived.  I was able to end a lifetime of poor educational assignments and put my son in an environment of care for the disabled. These are people who understand and know how to use behavior therapy to treat these disabilities. My ex and I had to be persistent parents to make that happen though and refusing to accept “good enough” as an answer for our son. That’s a hard fight though, especially with society staring down its nose at you.

So while people damn Adam Lanza to hell, blame a mother dead at her own son’s hand and cry for more gun control I will sit and wait. I’ll wait for the story to be told like it was in the fantastic book Columbine by Dave Cullen. I’ll wait for people to answer questions posed by Lt. Col. (Ret.) Dave Grossman’s campaign to attack the real enemy of denial. Once the roar is over maybe we will take some time to look at ourselves and the stigma we so stridently affix to mental illness because do we really need more Columbines and Sandy Hooks to understand?

Photo Courtesy of infomatique via Flickr.