Striving for Sanity

Aren’t we all striving for sanity in a crazy world? To me, the prevalence of guns in American society is insane. I don’t get the gun crowd but here’s one instance where I understand what the guy is saying, although I disagree with his view that “gun control is a failed social experiment, and it’s time to move on.”

Art is often at the forefront of change, and in this case a long-scheduled — now timely — Tucson exhibit, “Stop the Violence,” depicts weapons made by arranging human bones. Will the wanton violence in our society ever stop? Can it be reduced?

In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting tragedy efforts for some sort of gun control will pick up, then probably fade. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce see no reason to reduce the sale of extended ammunition clips. But according to today’s Arizona Daily Star, “on this date in history, in Tucson, the sale of votive candles outpaced the sale of Glocks and extended clips 7-to-1.” Yay!

We cannot ignore rampant rage and over-the-top rhetoric that’s run amok during the past few years. More emphasis on recognizing signs of severe mental illness is necessary, which I hope points to an increase in awareness — and compassion — not fear.

Lumping everyone with mental disorders into one category is not the answer. There’s a big difference between our highly functional neighbors, friends and family members who get support and receive treatment through medication and/or therapy and someone like Jared Loughner, who seemed to become more and more psychotic and isolated over time.

I’m excited about a local program to help increase awareness about serious mental illness. But let me be clear: I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment, so how do we act legally to thwart someone like Loughner?

Times have changed. When I was a grad student in the early 1970s, I taught a psychology class at Northampton Junior College in Massachusetts. Taking my students on a “field trip” to the state mental hospital was a big mistake: Staring at people with vacant eyes, so drugged up that they appeared catatonic, was so wrong.

Luckily, millions of people who have serious mental illness now live productive, happy lives. More effective medications with fewer side affects help, as does education. Consider books like “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness” (bipolar disorder) by Kay Redfield Jamison, or “The Center Will Not Hold: My Journey through Madness” (schizophrenia) by Elyn R. Saks. Both women have successful careers in the medical world.

In my view, reducing the stigma of mental illness should be the next civil rights movement. That doesn’t mean that seriously ill people like Jared Loughner should be ignored, on the contrary.

Join me. Find out about the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in your community. We really are all in this together.

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2 Responses to Striving for Sanity

  1. Ester Leutenberg says:

    Great article Sheila. The stigma of mental illness was the reason my son Mitchell didn’t reach out, ask for help, talk about what was going on inside of himself from age 22 to age 30. In a letter Mitchell wrote to friends of ours whose son died by suicide he said, “Had he been physically ill with a cancer or something of that variety, this death might have made more sense. I suggest to you that you consider his belief that this was his last best chance of peace or sanity. One’s mental health is more valuable than one’s physical well being and without being at peace, little is worth it.” Mitchell ultimately took his life a year later, at age 30 in 1986. Yes, the stigma of mental illness has come a long way since then, but we have a long way to go.

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