Tuesday, January 11, 2011

He could be your son; he could be my son

I was planning not to post about the recent tragedy in Arizona in which a disturbed young man killed and injured a number of people at a political rally.

I decided to say something in support of people like you and me who believe that there is another way. We will be shouted down by people who believe that mental illness is a brain disease in need of lifelong medication and that if only this young man had been on medication (properly "treated") then this all would have been avoided. The biochemical group will be vocal, but not as influential as the gun lobby, which will make a better ($$) case that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Anybody who has a son or daughter sliding into mental illness knows what paranoia is. It is scary and unpleasant to witness. People who are exhibiting signs of paranoia are racist, suspicious, and abnormally interested in the current gods of mythology, e.g. political figures, the CIA, the KGB (if you are Russian), the Stasi (if you were East German), movie stars, and religious figures. This preoccupation goes with the territory of paranoia. There is nothing abnormal about the accused in this regard when you compare him to thousands of others of the same age (22) and sex (male) who are also exhibiting signs of paranoia.

Here I'm going to get shouted down by readers when I say that chances are, if this young man's problems had been recognized and treated sooner, had he been on medication, chances are this scene could have been avoided.

I'll start with the "had he been on medication." Sure, had he been on medication, he would have been considerably slowed down, his paranoia may have subsided to a dull grumbling sound, and he would have been home on the couch or in bed, not toting a gun to a rally. But, my concern is for what happens after this. Millions of other young men are being forced, through government policies, insurance companies, lobby groups, pharmaceutical companies and doctors, to sacrifice the rest of their lives to medication for the deeds of one of their own: a young man with the same problems that the health care system won't properly treat.

The mental health care system, such as it exists in most of the Western world, refuses to address a young man's mental health crisis holistically. It has constructed a fortress of terror in the mind of the public that so-called mental illness is a chemically driven urge that can be fixed by dumping more chemicals on top of more chemicals. Despite the fact that there is no genetic marker, no scientifically proven test for "diseased brains," it has convinced a gullible public that mental illness is virtually untreatable without these drugs. Once you are sucked into these drugs, such as our sons have been, the pressure is on to continue to medicate. The health care system in most jurisdictions pays for medication but not lengthy therapy. And yet the National Alliance on Mental Illness is puzzled why 80% of people with a mental health diagnosis are unemployed. It's hard to hold down a job if you haven't really addressed the underlying problems of your life.

This young man's crisis could be sorted out eventually if he has access to a better way -- support, sympathy, understanding, recognition that good mental health is a journey. "Eventually" means it takes time. It takes effort. It takes understanding of what paranoia is. Your son and my son are lucky it never got this far. This young man'sconfused mind can be healed, but the trauma of what he did will never go away. That's punishment enough, in my opinion. Considerably less evolved members of the public will want to sort out his problems through life imprisonment or the death penalty.

So, yes, as a mother, I have a great deal of sympathy for this young man, which is no less than what I feel for the families of the people he killed and maimed.


  1. Good points about the tension between needing to treat disturbed people, versus the fact that long-term use of psychiatric drugs results in poor outcomes.

  2. Rossa,

    You wrote -

    "Sure, had he been on medication, he would have been considerably slowed down, his paranoia may have subsided to a dull grumbling sound, and he would have been home on the couch or in bed, not toting a gun to a rally."

    For a moment, let's assume your hypothetical (which by the way, makes my blood run cold and boil at the same time)...

    Let's assume that had this guy been drugged up, he would have been as gentle as a lamb... quietly watching Oprah re-runs at home...

    The problem is that people instinctively want to get OFF these drugs... So they can feel again, so they can work again, so they can function!

    And they do get off without any kind of help... And getting off the drugs (and they are drugs, not "medicine") often has some big-time fallout...

    They are dangerous going in, only to be matched by their danger coming out...

    And so, a violent incident can occur by a drug withdrawal... Peter Breggin, MD cites numerous examples.

    Another problem -

    One might argue the point that "if it saves one life, it's worth it"...

    This is rarely a good argument by the way...

    (For example, we could reduce the highway speed limit from 70 mph to 10 mph, and save tens of thousands of lives from traffic accidents, only to lose more lives when the cost of goods causes a major economy to collapse, and subsequent worldwide hunger... )

    Back to psychiatric drugs -

    So, we have people stuck on the drugs (by force) who remain on the drugs (by force), who lose an average of a third of their lifespan (25 years)...

    And so, for every three people who are forced on drugs, we have the loss of a life... Thousands of lives lost each year (premature death) in the false hope that a few (or "even one" might be spared.... Not a good argument.

    On the subject of John Nash not having a gun... He lived in a home, with a kitchen, he had access to knives...

    What's the point?
    Give it a moment's thought, the answer will come...

    Freedom is a messy business.
    It's not always about keeping people "safe."

    When safety becomes more valuable than freedom, it can cause lost lives....
    as is the case with psychiatric drugs... thousands every year from premature death.

    No, I say taking away freedom is not the answer.

    If a person appears to be a threat, they get a fair trial with a lawyer.
    Nothing less.

    Some good links on "freedom" -



    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  3. Duane - In my hypothetical example, I deliberately used "on medications" to show only what people are like who are on medications. You have correctly pointed out that people on medications don't adhere to them for various good reasons. Access to knives doesn't kill people on the scale of access to guns. There's almost no comparison. The reason why I hesitated to even post on this is that it gets people all "fired up," so to speak, about other issues. The big problem in the USA is the scale of the carnage, not just because it's a country with a big population. Disturbed thinking plus ready access to guns equals what we see in Arizona.

  4. Washington D.C. has outlawed hand guns for years.
    And has some of the highest violent crime rates, with guns in the United States.

    The arguments against guns have a common theme.
    They are based on emotions, not logic.

    Logic needs to rule the day when it comes to protecting freedom... Not emotion.

    I won't quietly by and watch freedoms get taken away... neither should anyone else, including those who don't like guns.


  5. Duane - My blog is about schizophrenia. I think you missed my point about John Nash. I have no interest in debating gun laws. Schizophrenia, yes, medications, fine, but let's stay on topic. I'm here to present a diagnosis of schizophrenia in a positive light and not veer into unwinnable debates on other topics. Thanks for your understanding.

  6. Rossa,

    In fairness, the gun laws have become the talk of the day here in the U.S., and you closed your post with mention of guns.

    Anyway, I do understand... and I think staying on the subject of "schizophrenia" and drugs, treatment, etc allows for plenty of discussion, without getting into the other topics.

    Thank you for your posts - always interesting.

    Duane Sherry

  7. FWIW, I also question the ready access to non-hunting lethal arms. And I agree, at this time it is an unwinnable debate. (But by the way, DC recently struck down the handgun ban, by the way...or the courts did.) But I do not understand what the original John Nash comment meant. Are you saying that those who receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia are all potentially violent? I still don't understand. Thanks.


  8. To resolve this, I'm going to delete the reference to John Nash, and I thank Duane for his understanding. B'ham - yes, I was saying that there is potential violence, not in the diagnosis of schizophrenia, but when someone is in the acute stages. Most people are lucky that it never goes that far. If you are hallucinating, you may possibly do violence to someone you love out of fear or thinking you are actually protecting them from a greater evil. My guess is that most people with the diagnosis are the more gentle people on earth, but when your adrenaline is pumping like crazy, I would put away the knives, just as a precaution.

  9. P.S. There are hallucinations and there are hallucinations. Many hallucinations are benign.
    But, when someone is visibly agitated and dropping hints of violence, including self-harm, that's when precautions are needed. I'm not at all in favor of drugs, but in the absence of access to a better way, short term use of medications may be the only intervention available.

  10. Rossa,

    I can see your point.

    I would only argue that a person deserves access to the courts, with a lawyer before they are forced to take drugs.

    Alternative strategies (long-term) can be discussed, presented on behalf of the person who is deemed "mentally ill".

    Also, the long-term dangers of the drugs and assistance tapering off them could be discussed from the outset.

    Otherwise, we're gonna keep this failed system alive, by continuing to do what we do... And it's time for something different.

    This is a vision I drafted up, to change the mental health system. It touches on lots of areas -


    Duane Sherry

  11. Duane - I will read it, so thanks. I agree with you that what is needed is a better way. I've experienced letting Chris get to the point where he got hit by a car and was getting into other scary stuff and still I refused to let the doctor put him back on meds. In the end, he ended up on meds anyway because there was no Soteria or Open Dialogue available.

  12. rossa, i agree 100%.


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