Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teetering on the Brink of Depression

In the aftermath of the shootings in Arizona almost every person speaking out about the shootings, and trying to figure out who Jared Loughner is and why he went on that rampage of gun violence targeting a specific Congresswoman and her aids and constituents, have pronounced him a madman, a homicidal maniac, a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychotic and more, all without a single mental health professional actually speaking with him and doing a mental health assessment.  And all this flinging of the crazy is done in a country with very poor access to mental health care.  I did hear one woman with mental health credentials (she'd been a profiler for the FBI)  call him all kinds of crazy without actually speaking with him, based solely on the tiny bits and pieces pasted together from his You Tube videos and the brief comments of a "friend" of his.  Not only is that kind of pronouncement hugely unethical, it's hugely irresponsible and prejudicial.  If there was already an impediment to seeking mental health care due to the stigma of a diagnosis that labels one "crazy," there is now the extra stigma of being labeled such a danger to society that we crazy people should all be incarcerated to protect the rest of you undiagnosed crazies from us diagnosed crazies. It makes those of us who have sought help for our mental health problems worry that we are now viewed by our friends and neighbors as a ticking time bomb of potential homicidal rage.  But these days, who isn't?  And when you look around, how many of those who seem too angry or too unstable to be out in the world are not only gun owners but packin' heat at any given moment.  Does this make you all feel safer?

Since the shooting rampage in Tucson, I've heard a great deal about the rights of all to buy a fully automatic Glock and an extended ammo clip but very little about the rights of all to receive mental health counseling.  In fact in these hard economic times most states are cutting budgets for mental health coverage just as we're ramping up the fear and loathing of the mentally ill. 

I know from my own experience with the mental health care system that it's not easy to diagnose a specific mental illness.  I have been depressed since early childhood, but my depression wasn't treated until I was in my late twenties despite two suicide attempts, one in my late teens and one in my early twenties.  I was called "moody".  And despite the many years of therapy, it took an internist to put me on an antidepressant in my late twenties.  She was smart enough to tell me that I would always need to be on an antidepressant.  In fact, the first antidepressant was so effective that it's still a great drug for me, for my specific brain chemistry, despite all the new antidepressants on the market these days.  I was in my mid-forties when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  The reason this diagnosis took so long was that my mania was seen as unlimited drive, mercurial range, access to vast energy.  I was called high strung.  I was compared to a race horse.  My whole system was speedier than average.  I was a tightly coiled spring.  I was a disaster in the making.  But on the way to disaster I did a lot of very interesting things. I was articulate enough to get away with almost anything.  I even owned a gun.  And I almost pulled the trigger on a man in a moment of exasperation with him for not leaving me alone when I asked him to.  Luckily for me, and for all the annoying men to follow, I got rid of the gun and never replaced it.  Where is that stylish little Browning Semi-Automatic Pistol now?  Probably in the hands of someone like Jared Loughner.


The Blog Fodder said...

Loughner must be seen to be a deranged lone gunman as the alternatives are less pleasant to consider.
Both the congresswoman AND the judge had been threatened previously. Legal advice to any woman tempted to murder her husband was to empty the gun into him in an apparent fit of uncontrollable rage and then plead (temporary) insanity.
Have you noticed there is always a deranged lone gunman around when you need one?

Anonymous said...

You are a very wise woman. And I gotta say thanks for sharing your story.

Liberality said...

You bring up some good points. I can't stand to hear the news anymore. It's all a bunch of bla, bla, bla--justify cruelty this, fuck the poor people that--and I just can't take it anymore.

mountain.mama said...

I work in a mental health center and we have a sliding scale fee, but even once you get in to see the psychiatrist, affordable medication is the next challenge. Every time someone goes off and shoots a bunch of people the easiest thing to do is dismiss that person as crazy. Who wants to address real issues in the Land of Spin and Sound Bites?

Utah Savage said...

Even if Loughner turns out to be psychotic he is still quite possibly listening to the voices on the right that say taking 2nd amendment remedies is a necessary action when you don't agree with the policies of a particular politician. He was a young man trying to get an education and would have been terribly angry to be expelled from the college he was attending. I suspect he didn't begin his college career as a nihilist but became enamored of nihilism when nothing he tried to do to better himself worked out for him. He was engaged enough in the political system to go to a prior town hall meeting with Congresswoman Giffords and asked a question, but didn't like her answer. She sent him a thank you note for attending and that pissed him off. He seemed to get brushed off at every turn. This is a hard economy for a young man with no education and no prospects. Desperation does strange things to all of us. Loughner was at the end of a string of disappointments. Who knows what tipped the balance. I suspect that prior to a trial he will have a mental health assessment. I hope we hear detail of that assessment.

Lib, I should stop listening to the news, but I'm a lifelong news junkie. I don't know how to stop listening. I suspect I'd be a lot happier if I could shut it off.

Even if a young man like Loughnner wanted a mental health evaluation, I'm betting the cost, even with a sliding scale, would be prohibitive and the prospect of taking drugs to treat his mental health issues would be both too expensive and seem weak and shameful. It's the fucking stigma. Anyone who actually is mentally ill listening to the press describe someone we merely suspect of being mentally ill makes us all feel like criminals for being sick.

MRMacrum said...

Maybe it's just me, but shooting a bunch of people at a shopping center is a strong indicator the shooter does not have both oars in the water. But your point about the sad state of our mental health network is well taken. From what I have read, this guy exhibited many troubling tendencies going back quite a ways. Maybe if we had a better system in place, this tragedy could have been averted.

Personally, I have given up on the Health Care industry, period.

Cleveland Bob said...

Another fine and brave post, Utah.

I too wish I could tune out the "news" but I remain a fellow follower of fashion. It would be an easier way to live a normal life.

The craving for information is addictive. I look back on the 4 years I lived (and mostly hated)in NYC in the Eighties and think that the only reason I stayed there that long was because I needed to know what had happened before everyone else heard the story. It's like a sickness in and of itself.

Good luck to us all.

marketing said...

This is a fantastic article. From an outsider's point of view (someone from outside the US) people are amazed at the stupidity of the US gun culture... but that is another matter. The main points I've picked up on in your article is the lack of access to quality mental health care and the length of time it took for you to be properly diagnosed. In Australia, there is a multi-disorder mental health assessment tool called the mind screen (wwwdotmindscreendotcomdotau) that makes access to an initial assessment easier and it increases the chances of an accurate early diagnosis of bipolar disorder. This tool is not like one of the hundreds of free single-disorder assessment tools available online. It was developed over five years by professionals for professionals. The individual doing the assessment pays to do it online, then can only access the results by visiting the practitioner they nominated to receive the result. The report is comprehensive and includes a treatment plan. We're looking for a US partner to bring this tool to the US. Does anyone have any contacts in this regard? If so, email

Thanks again for your excellent post.

no_slappz said...

utah, you wrote:

...have pronounced him a madman, a homicidal maniac, a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychotic and more, all without a single mental health professional actually speaking with him and doing a mental health assessment.

I see. In other words, it's your view that Loughner, a person who murdered six and wounded a dozen more, might have had a motive that a mental health professional would judge to be rational? Is that it?

By the way, the previous encounter between Loughner and Giffords occurred in 2007. Therefore, it appears he's been stewing and brooding about it since then, giving his rage a multi-year incubation period.

As for the "stigma" you mentioned. Those days are gone. Now there's a cachet that goes with being a little nuts.

Every wannabe artist in the country wants to claim his art is a product of his insanity. When it comes to art, we're a nation of van Goghs.

Seems people love to believe schizophrenia is the "divine madness" that produces profound art. But it's not.

You wrote:

Where is that stylish little Browning Semi-Automatic Pistol now? Probably in the hands of someone like Jared Loughner.

If you irresponsibly disposed of your pistol, then you bear some responsibility for its subsequent use.

Do you see the irony that is the major element of your commentary?

Fiddlin' Bill said...

I bought a nice .22 revolver once when my digs were broken into several times in my absence. I kinda knew who was doing it--neighbors. I went out in my yard (this was a rural setting by the way) and shot the pistol at cans a few times--a message to them. They got it. Next time I was gone they broke in again, and stole the pistol. I moved.

Fiddlin' Bill said...

Congratulations, you have earned a troll in the guise of no_slappz. Your post is entirely reality-based; Mr. Slappz bases his on faux law and faux criticism ("irony" as he uses it is utterly empty of meaning, but it looks good to the h.s. English teacher). Meanwhile, your posts are magnificent. Thank you for writing.

Utah Savage said...

Thanks Bill. I delete my troll Slapz if he goes on too much of a rant. I let him stay if he leaves only one rant and isn't too abusive. It's just enough to let anyone else see how shallow and mean the RWNJs are.

no_slappz said...

fiddlin bill, you wrote:

"irony" as he uses it is utterly empty of meaning, but it looks good to the h.s. English teacher

I noticed you listed "To Have and Have Not" as one of your favorite books.

Since you seem to have declared yourself a Student of Irony, it appears you created your book list with irony in mind.

To Have and Have Not is probably Hemingway's worst book, most likely written while he was too drunk to walk.

I guess he figured he could get away with anything at that point. Jake Barnes, the leading amputee in The Sun Also Rises, was missing his pecker. Seems Hemingway figured if that gambit worked once, why not try it again, only this time, by removing something bigger. What did he do? He cut off Harry Morgan's arm and then had him put the stump to good use on his wife's clitoris.

That Hemingway. What a joker.

Meanwhile, the dialogue seems to have been written by the least talented person in a high school creative writing class, someone who had read some bad detective fiction and tried to imitate the worst of the tough-guy talk.

Fran said...

We don;t hear much in the newz about this aspect, but Loughner was smoking "Synergy", a synthetic marijuana- perfectly legal in Arizona.

Read this lengthy article about how the chemical version of pot is so different than natural pot.
It is addictive & can make a person physically sick. Hallucinations, temporary blindness, etc.

I look at Loughner's case as many pieces of the puzzle--- maybe a bad family scene, unable to fit in in high school & college, turned to a chemical that can mess you up.

Just saying... could be a whole lot of other stuff going on, but maybe the chemical pot was the thing that put it all over the top.

It can't be detected in blood/urine samples either, so no way of knowing if he was under the influence at the time- unless he discloses that.

I'd like to know more about his home life. Friends were quoted as saying they thought his parents were divorced or his dad was dead, because he never mentioned him.
Another friend's parent said he saw Loughner's parents in the grocery store a few times, always with a 30 pack of beer in the grocery cart.

Usually in these kinds of cases, there is a complex set of circumstances that serve as pieces of the puzzle of what went wrong.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

I just began a stint of community service hours currently giving some time to Salvation Army... a young black man from Haiti is doing cc hours too. On the mornings I show up, early, he is there exhibiting behavior that is classically called schizophrenia. Now I have a BS in psychology, but that does not, as Peggy points out, qualify with expertise to diagnose. As so many did in Tucson. But what I did and what folks could do with discretion is to tell the person in authority about what you observe or experience with an individual... because I know that after all that has gone on in the last couple of weeks, I didn't want to not do it and chance anyone including the young man being harmed.
I think I got that right... and if nothing else, isn't that the message ???

Fiddlin' Bill said...

I listed "To Have and Have Not" as one of my favorite films. Hemingway had almost nothing to do with the film; Bacall and Bogart quite a great deal. Faulkner also contributed.

Utah Savage said...

Gwen, I think you did the right thing.

Fran,You have some very interesting information there. I too have wondered about Loughner's parents. The whole community failed him and the cost was horrific. We need to understand this event in every way to prevent others like it.