Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Utter Failure

No not Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui but the US system of treating people who are mentally ill.

I feel sorry for him, he was disturbed, if he lived, he would likely been ruled incompetent to stand trial. But our mental health system is riddled with incompetency, torn to shreds with budget cuts and many insurance companies will not pay for mental health coverage. The severely mentally ill are in the prisons or on the streets. It is a basic truth, said a Reuters' article, that one must be arrested in many cases to get treatment! According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "untreated mental health is the nation's No. 1 public health crisis". Who would have known? Absurd!

It has come to light that Cho had many mental health issues from a young age and had sought treatment. In 2005 Virginia Tech authorities had complaints that he was stalking and annoying female students. He spent some time in a psychiatric hospital because of worries he was suicidal. His poetry professor, poet Nikki Giovanni, threatened to quit if he wasn't removed from her class. Teachers and students alike were stunned by his violent, dark writing.

It took these complaints to get a judge to get him therapy. But it is not clear he ever got it. It seems he may have been there for one day. The laws and the financial restraints on patients and providers for many mentally ill to forgo treatment, or get inadequate treatment. I recently read a story of a young man, suicidal, who was told by the hospital he was not sick enough to be kept. He was dead by his own hand the next day. When someone gets treatment, privacy laws may prevent a school or employer or anyone from knowing a ticking time bomb is in their midst. That was apparently the case here.

Why does the US, the richest nation on Earth, feel it has to skimp on healthcare while bombing the shit out of the world? Why is Bushie's pride worth more than the health of the nation? When more and more students (up to 40% in some studies) report being stressed, depressed and overwhelmed by school. When depression is on the rise as our world gets more violent and out of control, we cut mental health services to the bone.

Maybe we should not blame Cho but our inadequate medical system and our turning a blind eye to the mentally ill for allowing it to happen.

Rest in Peace Cho Seung-Hui. Rest in Peace all his victims. What a tragedy it came to this.

1 comment:

Zaine Ridling said...

Good point. Cho had been unbalanced for quite some time. I still believe this is all biochemical. However, one serious problem I've found that many people from other parts of the world don't understand is how we live in America. The top 2% live like Croesus whereas a good portion fight to get to and stay in the middle class, and the rest of Americans — from 20-50% live on minimum wage and less.

Yet they think we all drive big new SUVs, have great jobs, living in big houses, and money is never an object with our "cheap" $3 gas. Now take that misperception to a college campus, where wealth is greatly amplified by these kids who've never worked a day in their life (and most of the richest never will), and a poor kid from S. Korea walks in and is repeatedly humilated by his poverty. No money, no car, no family back home to send money, no friends on campus, and you've got a keg of dynamite waiting to be lit.

I look back at the sacrifice it took for me to go to college, and that I rode a bicycle throughout, not to mention literally ate day-to-day so I wouldn't spend my money before the next month's meager paycheck came, it was rough. But perhaps unlike Cho, that's what I expected, and I knew things would get better a few years later.

What slays me is that our vaunted Homeland Security allows a (foreign!) guy who spent a bit of time in the mental hospital (a weekend?) could still go out and legally buy all the guns he wanted. I'm with you: the reason I don't own a gun is the same reason Jim Rockford — yes, the TV character — didn't like carrying one: Because bad things happen when you have a gun.

At least Cho had the decency to kill himself and save us from watching his trial over the next several years.