Photo by Karp :the spot of Gifford’s shooting and the memorial set up
The Newtown, The Gabby Gifford, and the Aurora Theater massacres caused an outcry for identifying the mentally ill who would commit such horrifying murders of children and adults. A great idea but who could or would identify them before they snapped? Psychotherapists, facilities and money are in scarce.
The dilemma is not new. Having recently moved to a house, I was digging through my old newspaper clippings and found an article I wrote in the early sixties. I quoted the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health appointed by the US Public Health Service to investigate mental health in the United States. As a result, more than 50 years ago, they concluded because of the shortage of those who might help, the Commission presented to Congress: “the only alternative, because of the lack of personnel, is to lean on mental health education”
I also discovered the professionals could not agree among themselves what mental illness is.
The American Psychiatric Assn., The National Assn. for Mental Health and Pennsylvania Mental Health Inc., met at Cornell University. Delegates struggled at length to define “mental health.” After meeting a dead end, the best they could do was to present the consensus about what mental health is NOT. Here is what they concluded:
Adjustment Under All Circumstances: There are many circumstances to which a man should not adjust; otherwise there would be no progress.
Freedom From Anxiety and Tension: Anxiety and tension are often prerequisites and accompaniments of creativity and self-preservation, as in war, when anxiety mobilizes power for action.
Freedom From Dissatisfaction: From dissatisfaction, progress ensues.
Conformity: One criterion of maturity is the ability to stand apart from the crowd when conditions indicate mental health is characterized by relative freedom from cultural and personal biases.
Constant Happiness: In this imperfect world, a sensitive mature person often experiences unhappiness.
A Lessening of Accomplishment and Creativity: Mental health is characterized by the ability of the individual to use his powers ever more fully.
The Absence of Personal Idiosyncrasies: Many such idiosyncrasies which do not interfere with function enrich the life of the individual and those who come in contact with him.
The Undermining of Authority: Mental health is characterized by the increased ability of the individual to use and respect realistic authority while depreciating the use of authority as an oppressive force and solely for the personal gratification of the individual.
Opposition to Religious Values: Mental health facilitates and complements the aims of religion in as much as it fosters the highest spiritual and social values.
Still trying to list the symptoms of mental illness, the professionals assembled concluded:
Unfortunately there is not one single danger signal which all or even most of us would agree to place on such a list. The making of such lists opens the door wide to disastrous mistakes, since only the expert can tell whether a particular kind of deviant behavior is pathological. Indeed, even the expert has been known to go wrong with people coming from a culture whose norms are unfamiliar to him.”
Care today for the seriously mentally is even more expensive than it was then. If it does exist, often the personnel who care for the sick– including the psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, attendants and social workers– are poorly paid. While our government is now concerned with our economy and wars, will some politicians stand up and fight to fund new, appealing facilities with well paid staffs for the seriously mentally ill or will there be other mass shootings like Newtown , Gifford, and Aurora in our future?