Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Last night, a very sick man with a hatred of women shot to death at least three innocent people at my local gym. He put several more in the hospital. He then allegedly turned the gun on himself, bringing the total number of victims to four as of right now. The man had a website, which you can go find for yourself or maybe somebody will put the url in a comment, but I'm not going to post it right now. On the site, he basically poured out his thoughts and feelings about his life. It is abundantly clear from reading this that the man, George Sodini, was very sick. And he had been sick for a long time, claiming to have almost pulled off this same crime back in January before "chickening out," as he put it. It is possible I myself was inside running on a treadmill as he sat outside contemplating his next move. Thankfully, I was not, but several others were not so lucky and I feel immensely saddened by the fact that these people have been killed because of something entirely preventable.
Every day in this country, people walk into doctors' offices, show their health insurance card, and get a physical. They are checked for all the common illnesses and maladies that are possible based on their gender and age group. The physical is extremely important and many people will tell you it saved their lives. I'm sure you would not have to go far to find a women who survived breast cancer because of early detection, or a man who survived prostate cancer, or a boy who survived leukemia because of standard blood tests. In our society, the physical illnesses are looked upon with empathy and efforts are made to heal them.
Why then is mental illness so stigmatized? Why do these same health care providers refuse to cover psychiatric visits? Why does the diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia elicit whispers and averted gazes instead of empathy and additional efforts at treatment? Why does the thought of seeing your doctor occur to us as something that is important while the thought of seeing your shrink is a joke? I don't have an answer for this.
It is my belief that a good health care plan covers all the incidentals of yearly checkups for both physical and mental health. I'm not talking about laying on a sofa talking about how you need to cry more or something. The hollywood version of mental health has sadly made it harder to take the field seriously. A visit with a psychiatrist could resemble that for some, but its just as easily you sitting in a room with a doctor talking about your mind in the same way you would your body. If you feel depressed, you should tell someone. If you feel angry all the time, you should tell someone. And if someone else shows these signs and isn't telling anyone, you should convince them to. Even if George Sodini wouldn't have gone to a shrink as a 48 year old man, maybe he would have gone in his 20's when his illness was still young like he was. Or maybe a friend would have noticed something in his behavior and asked him to go. Or maybe someone in his family would have gone before he was born and they would have seen the signs of his mental instability through their own experience.
Obviously, instigating this type of policy isn't going to catch everyone. Just like physicals don't save all cancer victims, "mentals" wouldn't catch every crazy out there. But they would catch enough. Even one life saved is enough. Not to mention the countless people, and they are countless, who suffer from lesser mental disabilities and never receive treatment. They may not go spree shooting, but they significantly reduce the quality of their own lives and of the lives of those around them. There is simply no good reason to shun the mentally ill as we do in our society when we could easily help them. Prescription drug manufactures and psychiatric doctors should be especially eager to see this kind of reform, and they are as I understand it, but people as a whole remain totally uneducated about mental health. Klebold, Cho, now Sodini. Chances are one of these if not all of them would have been stopped before they committed their atrocities if they had seen a single mental health professional in their lives. Adolf Hitler is now believed to have suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That's diagnosable and treatable.
As with many other things, mankind as a species will not improve until certain things are accepted. Something we need to accept is that mental illness happens. It is detectable. It is treatable. And in many cases, it is even preventable. We have the tools. We have the manpower waiting in the wings. We just need to open our minds. That is both the easiest and the hardest part of any process like this. I am confident that it will happen eventually, but I don't know how long we will have to wait and how many more Sodinis we will have to see before it does. Sphere: Related Content