By brian E. Clark
We all carry a bag of rocks. Some are bigger than others. This is how I heard Movie & TV Star Natasha Lyonne describe Mental Health afflictions today on a talk show. This was mysterious timing, because I was already pondering the thoughts of Mental Health in our community, after writing an article on the 6 month anniversary of the murder of baby Aaden Moreno. Many comments were given in response to the article, and all constructive, for once. The resounding opinion though, is that there is still a serious lack of public officials making legislation, and easier access to Mental Health services. I couldn’t agree more, and before I go on proving points with stats and figures, it’s best you know where my point of view originates from.
First, you may not be classified as having Mental Health issues, but I’m going to be bold and say that everyone is carrying a bag of rocks, so-to-speak. It’s the basic fact of life; Shit Happens. Some people can handle it better than others, and for some, some real major trauma has happened that they need help with. Personally, I grew up with a severely mentally ill Mother, and had to watch the chaos throughout my adolescence. I myself lived a very noble life in Public Service for a period of time, until I was confronted with a situation too difficult to deal with, and I now have PTSD and Panic and Anxiety Disorders. I have also had my battle with addiction in my life, and not only have I witnessed people committing suicide, I have also known people very well that have done so also. My Mother attempted suicide by driving her car under a tractor trailer when I was 15.
The world is a hard place to live, but it’s the only choice we are given. Some of us have a fairly uneventful life, with only limited moments of grief and sadness, and are able to manage those events very well. Others have the same limited problems, and cannot deal with those events, and require help to do so. Then there are the others; Their lives are filled with traumatic events, that no human is ever designed to deal with, and those individuals need intensive levels of help from Mental Health professionals. The issue is, in a crowd of people, you can look around, and not know who is who. You have no way of knowing what battle the next man is fighting. Even worse are those that are fighting that battle, and do not seek the help they need, or they do, and somehow they fall through the cracks. The end result is usually some event of destructive behavior that obviously violates the standards of the community, and that person either harms themselves, or others.
Another side of that dynamic is Substance Abuse. People who self-medicate, and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. The general thought with addicted persons, is that the ends are always the same: Jails, Institutions, or Death. Unfortunately it’s absolutely true. The question really is, is how many other people has that person harmed in the course of living with their addiction. No doubt families are shattered. Relationships and Marriages are ruined and ended. The reality is those are the best case scenario’s. The worst case is that the individual has physically harmed himself or others, or ultimately has taken his or her life, or others, be it through overdoses or crime. Unfortunately, this problem is so much bigger than the paragraph that describes it.
As a society, we have a responsibility to help our citizens, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. People that commit crimes, and end up in prison, deserve to be reformed, and renewed throughout their sentence. Mentally Ill persons deserve to be given the treatment and care they so desperately need. Addicts deserve rehabilitation and detoxification through intensive inpatient and outpatient programs. However, very little of what I have described above, actually happens. The reality is, the system in place to deal with these people is hopelessly broken. The Judicial and Correctional System in place does not meet what I have described above; Above is how the system was originally designed to work.
What we have, ultimately, is a system that warehouses people. Correctional Institutions, and Mental Health Centers have become extremely large facilities where large amounts of people are sent to be warehoused until their sentence, or treatment is finished. A lot of feedback I’ve gotten in the past, says that’s exactly what they deserve, and they shouldn’t be afforded any luxuries. I agree that they shouldn’t be afforded any luxuries, but reform and rehabilitation is not a luxury. What most people do not realize, is that 95% of Inmates will be released from prison at some point. Given that they are not reformed or rehabilitated, it’s no wonder that the Department Of Corrections will flat out tell you that the recidivism rate is 50%. Half of all offenders, will re-offend. I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are, that number sucks.
The research and statistics very widely when you go to look at how many Inmates have Mental Health problems. The statistics vary anywhere from 45% to 61% of Inmates are afflicted with some form of Mental Health Illness, and this does not include the disease of addiction. The unfortunate reality there, is that drugs and alcohol are involved in 90% of the crimes Inmates are sentenced for. The primary idea I am trying to get across here, is that if Mental Healthcare was more widely available, and the Judicial system used treatment instead of Incarceration in non-violent drug crimes, we could seriously help a lot more people than we currently are, while reducing the amount of people we are sending to prison, where they will be warehoused until their sentence is over, having received no help whatsoever.
We are living in a time now where terrorism is rampant, gun violence is at an all-time high, and mass active shooter situations are occurring on what seems like a daily basis. I maintain if Mental Health programs were available to everyone, and if a person’s family and friends could report a person they are concerned about- not to have that person arrested by law enforcement- but to arrange for them to be evaluated by a Mental Health Professional, before they can act to harm themselves, or possibly someone else, this is the progressive treatment and evaluation model we need to make our society safer. I’m certainly not one to limit someone’s gun rights either; I am a full believer in the 2nd Amendment, but I also believe that if someone is demonstrating Emotional Instability, their ability to purchase a gun, be it rifle or pistol- with a valid pistol permit or hunting license or not, should be suspended until they are cleared by a Mental Health Professional. I don’t believe such a system would be a violation of someone’s 2nd Amendment’s rights, and the simple program could save countless numbers of lives.
Further, if someone is demonstrating Emotional/ Mental Instability, and they are known to own weapons, those weapons need to be seized until, again, they are able to be cleared by a Mental Health Professional. These are the times we live in, folks. Our leaders, and legislators need to make Mental Healthcare more available, and they need to fix the Judicial/ Correctional Systems, and find ways to send certain people to treatment, not incarceration.
I’ll conclude by saying that I know a few people, closely, that have been incarcerated, and are currently incarcerated. Some are coming home, One never will. These people are not getting any help while they are in the Correctional Facilities, and it’s unfortunate. When they come home, if they don’t have a great support structure, they’ll be set up to fail. Some may make it, some won’t. It’s our failure that we aren’t taking care of these people in the first place. We need to contact our leaders and legislators and speak very matter-of-factly to them about these issues. I’m quite sure I’ll be writing about this all again, very soon. Until then, be well, and treat each other well.