Those Who are Lost…Fall
3 years ago
Newtown, Connecticut was a symptom. So was Aurora, Colorado…and so was Columbine.
I’ve spent much of my life working with troubled and hurting people. The first 16 years was with troubled and homeless kids, and gangs. We opened a free outpatient clinic to serve those with no access to mental health services. As the clinic and staff grew to serve over 500 appointments a month, I realized many of the kids had no place to live, or where they did live was desperately dysfunctional. So we built a 500-acre residential facility for emotionally troubled adolescents and I worked with outstanding doctors on an adolescent inpatient unit. I then began to work extensively with schools, serving their most troubled youngsters, which led to forming one of the largest educator training companies in the nation. The company has expanded to serve corporations ranging from private equity, to government services, to sports teams, as well as special operations projects around the globe.
Our teams are world class and I am honored to know and get to work with them. I am writing because I have been around those who serve, as well as those in the most desperate need of services. I feel that we have been given an opportunity in the wake of these horrific events to rethink several things about our society: who we are and who we want to be. All of the steps we take in the future should be done with respect to our country’s founding principles, as well as concern for the most vulnerable and needy within our boundaries.
The Connecticut tragedy was horrible. Every American, I’m sure, would agree with this. It was difficult for my wife and I to listen to or watch the news about the event, as we have helped raise 20 children. They are our children and several of them have come from very difficult situations. What do we learn from the Connecticut murders and what do we do with what we learn…and how did we even get here?
We are in a crisis in our nation – an internal one. We have lost our way and to some degree, we have lost our soul…our ability to rise above our differences and address our nation’s deepest needs. Until we are willing to face our deepest issues, we will continue to endure and be horrified by the events that unfold around us.
Have you been to the waiting room of a veterans’ hospital or ridden with a police officer to a domestic disturbance call? Have you walked under a bridge lately? Have you ever sat with parents as their child is referred to an alternative school setting…or sat in a court-ordered hearing for an emotionally disturbed person? Have you ever been with a family while they looked at their own child and felt afraid of him and what he might do?
I have, and I know much of what they are facing. In the face of the Connecticut shootings, we heard calls for more gun control and more laws and more studies and yes, more mental health services in the process. Yet, the fact is that Connecticut already had some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. They are also home to some of our best gun manufacturers.
Every person has preconceived thoughts about situations. We have our own biases and tend to defend them with reasons, whether based in fact or not. You and I are different. That is also what makes it difficult for us to hear or consider other positions. As a superintendent friend of mine says, we are phonetically challenged…we can’t hear what we can’t hear.
But take a minute and try to hear from those who have committed heinous acts, as well as those who have so bravely given so much to prevent them. From the victims, we hear their loss and the agony of those who miss them. You may say that you don’t want to hear from those who committed these atrocities, but without hearing their voice, you really can’t discover the “why”.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was a national move in the U.S. to close or greatly reduce access to state hospital care. It was felt that this was in the best interest of our society, as well as the patients and their families. Those in the mental health field know that when that took place, funding for state facilities began to be restricted and patients in those facilities began to be discharged.
I was in my office when a police officer brought a 20-year-old man to see me; I was only 30 at the time. He had just arrived in town after being released from a 4-year stay in a state hospital (beginning at age 16). He had been given a bus ticket to the county that had court-ordered his hospitalization. He got off the bus…with no one knowing he was coming, no job, no doctor referral, no transportation, and no medication. He had been off his medication for over 24 hours as he fumbled his way through the bus system. The officer found him wandering the streets and brought him to our clinic. Late that night, he left the shelter, naked, and walked in front of a tractor trailer truck and was destroyed.
Those who survived this “resettlement” to their county of origin moved under bridges and into doorways. Many went home and resumed their wanderings in life as their families lost touch with them. Others simply committed suicide and some did so without dying but rather living among the dead until “their time” would come. We have a massive mental health issue in this country.
Today…I mean today…TODAY, if you had a child or family member in desperate need of mental health services, or a veteran who served us, in need of care, tell me where they can go? You can only admit someone for 24 hours to 3 days, if you even have the ability to get it done. It takes a court order to make it happen. Really. A court order. I know it’s for the protection of the patient, but we also have professionals and an admission system that watches over abuses of their rights, as well.
If a professional knows that someone is going to commit a murder, you cannot get them committed even if they tell you they are going to commit the murder…until they have DONE something; this is the law. It happened to my patients and they were murdered, even after it was repeatedly reported by their family members, as well as myself…because law enforcement couldn’t act. We have fewer psychiatric hospitals today than we did 20 years ago and yes, I know about the abuses, but that does not justify neglect or forgetting about those who need care.
I met with parents after the Columbine event; I spoke at the school district in Aurora after the movie theater murders and then we had the horror in a Connecticut elementary school. In each and every case, we know that the people who committed these acts were mentally and emotionally very troubled individuals. Think for a minute…most all murders of this type are followed by the suicide of the perpetrator. That’s not because they feel remorse. Their conscience and sense of compassion were completely missing in the event. They commit suicide because they are broken and sick people and yes, in some cases, they simply don’t want to get caught or held responsible for what they have done.
We also have veterans returning from multiple deployments who need our care. We have veterans in our company who are delivering that care to those who suffer with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). And they will tell you that in many cases, veterans are suicidal and at times feel completely capable of doing horrible things to others. That does not make them horrible…they are broken and hurting and lost in our society.
What becomes of a mentally ill child when they grow up? Where does a mother go when her child threatens her? Who does she tell when she is afraid of what her child will do to someone else? Until we have appropriate places for people with mental and emotional issues to go or be referred, we will continue to have these problems.
We desperately need accessible places for referrals. School counselors need them, police officers need them, the military needs them, families desperately need them, the courts need them, pastors need them and our nation needs them. It is estimated that anywhere from 3-10% of our citizens struggle with mental illness. Susan and I are personally devastated over these events, but I know that if we don’t provide care for those who are at the greatest risk, by what right can we be outraged when they act out their own horrors?
It’s one thing for us as a nation to look appallingly at the perpetrators of these crimes. But, we must also accept that for us to refuse to offer social/mental health resources and protections to those who are committing these crimes is to say that we will continue to live with them.
That is an unacceptable price to pay…the lives of innocents cannot be the price for our inaction.