Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Inclusiveness is All

I'm not trying to "make sense" out of what happened at Virginia Tech, that would be pointless as there is no sense to it. If you are trying to make sense out of it, please stop before your head explodes.

Despite all efforts by some quarters to lay the blame on any single or even group of items there is not a simple one-size-fits-all answer.

Would lack of access to firearms have prevented this? Not likely, this guy was determined to go out with a bang, minus firearms he'd have used a bomb or some other method. Ask my better half who had the privilege of assisting with "cleanup" after an employee decided to take out his supervisor and a few others with a backhoe.

Would more professional intervention have prevented this? Maybe. Truth is, once upon a time when it was easier to treat the mentally ill involuntarily we did what we usually do.....abused the system. People were subjected to all manner of horrors in the name of "treatment". Too often the people receiving said treatment weren't even mentally ill or were not in any way potentially dangerous, just people someone wanted out of the way for whatever reason. Inevitably laws were changed to make it nearly impossible to treat a person against their will, they almost have to commit a serious crime before they can be court ordered.

Based on the information coming out it seems at least some staff at Virginia Tech went above and beyond in trying to reach this student and in trying to protect others from him. That is actually the only thing I find surprising and speaks to the level of professionalism amongst the teaching staff there. They were obviously fighting a losing battle with a system not equipped to deal with people like Cho Seung-Hui but they recognized the potential danger and did everything within their power to prevent a tragedy, that's more than could be said of most institutions. Hats off to the professors who put themselves out there.

The truth is there are always going to be damaged people among us. The last 20 years have seen great strides in our knowledge, understanding and treatment of mental disorders but the sad fact is only a minute number of the people suffering from mental illness ever reap the benefits of the best possible treatment. The funding simply does not exist and our laws are so outdated we only treat those who have already managed to come into contact with our legal system. Even assuming a person is fortunate enough to belong to a family that is knowledgeable enough to recognise a problem their odds of being able to obtain better than substandard treatment for the afflicted person are slim to none.

Decades of cuts to mental health spending and the outsourcing of treatment to for-profit corporate entities have left us with a system that closes the barn door after the horses have already escaped. Toss in the usually extremely poor job law enforcement does when coming into contact with the mentally ill, the general level of and acceptance of violence in our culture, social stigma, and our cultural hatefulness in general.....recipe for tragedies like this one.

"Kinder and gentler" nation has become a cliche but it's way past time we pulled it back out and "un-cliched" it because until we start living it we can expect to see more tragedies like this one and most likely with increasing frequency. Two decades in forensic mental health and I can break it down for you this easily: more than half of our troubles are directly caused by the fact that people treat each other badly.

Start today. Quit expecting "the government" to solve all of our problems, we are the government and we are part of the problem. Pay attention to the people who are around you, especially the ones who've probably only been "background noise" to you. Treat people with equal courtesy whether they are dressed in an expensive suit or dirty rags and pushing a shopping cart. Courtesy and thoughtfulness don't stop at your social circle. It won't cure all of our social problems but it would make for a damned fine start.


ChasingMoksha said...

Yes, there seems to be a need, a desperate need to become citizens. Not rat-finking Gestapo citizens, but real kind and generous to people, considerate and loving citizens. Which I think is impossible until people understand how to love the earth. If the earth is loved, then the penchant to love people will follow.

Not Your Mama said...

Maybe but I'm not so certain of the me it looks like the general disregard for life is at the root of both problems.

If a person's needs aren't met they can't meet the needs of anyone or anything around them, no?

If anything I wish we could know about this man's past, not just his last year or two but his early childhood and teens. His disconnectedness had to have started long before he even got to VT and it makes me wonder where were the people who could have reached out to him then?

United We Lay said...

As a teacher I find I am often fighting a losing battle. There is so much we try to do for our students that is blocked at higher levels. There are things we want to do but can't do to silly laws. In many instances our hands are tied. For those of us who care about our students, they are our children. I wish there was more I could do for those at VT. Since there isn't, I choose to join the Mother of a March against violence in Washington DC on May 14th.

TomCat said...

Well said, Mama. In keeping with my male stereotype, I like to be a problem solver. There are some things I just can't fix.

cls said...

I'm with you Mama. I would like to know more about this kid before he got to VT. The few pictures that I've seen of him show a young man chewing on some mighty big pain.

As one who has been up close and personal with the mental health "system" in our country, I'm not holding out much hope. Even if you want and seek out help for yourself or a loved one, it's usually just a tattered bandage, not solid treatment.

pekka said...

In your typical manner, Mama mia, you refused to give a simple answer to the complex problem. You would make a lousy politician and propably would never be ellected to be a dog catcher. We ,the people, demand from our leaders to be "strong", tough and be able to communicate how easy it is to get rid of the problems by just saying no. And not to raise taxes, of course.

I am still in love with you!

Affectionally yours,
Pekka Karvonen

Not Your Mama said...

That's an excellent assessment truth I was rejected for the position of dog catcher right here in good ol' Pahrumpistan, Nevada.

Well, sort of...I never made it to the point of obtaining an interview as I received a letter from the county informing me that "only the candidates deemed most qualified would be contacted for interviews". Apparently I was not one of those persons.

S' was done on a bet to prove a point to someone about nepotism and stupidity in our county hiring procedures. Still, a funny moment in personal history.

Flimsy Sanity said...

Well said.

Path2Hope said...

You’re absolutely right, if we could only agree to treat each other equally – I doubt we’d be facing all this turmoil today. It’s frightening that we have to learn things the hard way, if you push someone long enough, you never know when they’ve reached their limit or how they will react. I feel terrible for the families of those who lost their lives, it’s sad what humanity has reached to.