In my homily yesterday I spoke a little bit about the tragedy in Colorado, mental health, gun control, individualism, community “soul” and corporate prayer. Some of my thoughts, although I didn’t say so then, were influenced by this article in the June 22, 2012 New York Times Magazine. Some of what I spoke about was influenced by my own life experience with mental illness in family members. And, some of what I spoke about is my ongoing reflection on the extreme individualism rampant in this country and our loss of civility.
When I preached the sermon I said more than what was posted on my blog. In particular I mentioned that traversing into the realm of mental illness must be done carefully. I don’t want to convey the idea that all mental illness will lead to violence to self or others. Nor do I want to convey the idea that all violence is the result of mental illness. I only wanted to suggest that people who commit heinous crimes of mass murder are living some kind of alternate reality. What I didn’t say is that schizophrenia can have an initial onset in young men during their late teens and early twenties. What I also didn’t say is that the ability for parents to intervene in the health care of their adult children has been eliminated with the HIPPA laws. Parents and family members are virtually helpless to do anything. The article in the NY Times magazine tells of this reality. It’s a sad, honest, tragic story. Not that the end of the NY Times story has the same outcome as the recent news. But I think it points to how complicated it is to intervene and get help. (read it, it’s worth it).
I’m thinking of the news report that said that the mother of the shooter in Colorado, when contacted on the phone, allegedly said, “Yes, you have the right person. I’m on my way there now.” How sad is that. Any family dealing with mental illness has three primary worries: their loved one will harm themselves or take their own life; their loved one will harm others; and something tragic will happen before any effect help can be found.
And so the real tragedy in this recent event is two fold: it might help if we had laws that made automatic rifles and guns illegal. But more importantly it would be really helpful if we had better laws and means for helping people with mental illness. We need compassion and love and the ability to intervene on behalf of another when they are unable to do so.
Protecting the rights of the individual above and beyond even their own well being is simply not working. Instead it has fueled a sense of entitlement and brought it to deadly proportions. Even when it is not deadly, it is still horrible – just listen to the rhetoric spewed in this country around politics and religion – it’s awful, all sense of civility is thrown out in favor of supporting individual rights to free speech and the right to bear arms. I am all for these rights, just not to the extreme we are living into them, one that pushes aside a greater good of the whole in favor of one.
I know…there are probably lots of holes in my thinking. I am not a lawyer nor am a theologian nor am I even a writer in the technical sense. I don’t have the gift to build those fabulous arguments I love to read. I am just an ordinary person trying to convey my thoughts on a systemic, pervasive problem in our world today. I wish that mental illness and the ways it can manifest in addiction was really understood as illness and not stigmatized. I’m sad that a news reporter called the shooter in Colorado – “Diabolic.” Really? Now he’s the devil? No doubt his actions are horrible. But he is wounded, somehow. And people who love him were unable to intervene, probably unable to even discern what was happening to him as he disintegrated.
This tragedy is tragic on many levels.