Monday, July 23, 2012

Shepherd Me, O God; Those Who Suffer Mental Illnesses

The recent events in a Colorado movie theater brings the topic of the mentally ill yet again to fore. This most recent mass shooting brings the public face to face with the mentally ill once more. In American society it has been the norm to keep the chronically mentally ill out of institutions and in local communities since the late 1970's. Those afflicted with serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, manic depression (now often referred to as Bi-Polar Depression), psychosis, certain personality disorders, paranoia, etc., are now commonly treated with scads of psychiatric medications. Thankfully for the many who suffer these illnesses, their "meds" and support from mental health professionals and loved ones, keeps them on an even keel. They can "function," as the medical community calls it.

Many of those affected work, study, hold advanced degrees, support families, and are friend to others. They are office mates, the person seated in the church pew next to us, the one inspecting produce at local farmers markets, walking dogs, attending their child's sporting events, our neighbor next door, the guy in the car stopped next to us, and most of the time we don't know they are ill. Quirky or moody--yes, but we do not think they are mentally ill. And that's the way it should be.

Many medical conditions are best left private. And since many of the mentally ill in our communities can function, that is to say that they can carry out most of their normal activities with little or no modifications on a normal day, it is right that they live at home, in their community, in our community. However things may go awry, and the public is reinvigorated, terrified even of the factors that cause mental illness and the fact that they just don't understand the low-functioning or non-functioning individual. Often for those who suffer various illnesses, their illness does not arise until the early adult years; some suffers have extremely high IQs. It may be more years until they arrive at treatment or appropriate support for their condition. And for some, the medications don't work, or they present terrible side effects such as diabetes or neurological damage, making their use perilous.

One famous Schizophrenic, John Nash, is a Mathematician and a Nobel Prize winner. In the book, A Beautiful Mind (later made into a movie by that title) the author, Sylvia Nasar, recounts his sad decline and descent into illness, the efforts to treat him and the striving of a community to accommodate him; when all failed, he dropped out, into the shadows for many years. Ahead of his time intellectually, it took just as many years for the world to recognize the genius of his "Game Theory" for which he received the Nobel Prize for Economic Theory.
Perhaps Nash's situation was ideal; it was not without grief and despair, failed and broken relationships, those who could not tolerate year in and year out of his quirky and unpredictable behavior.

And so it may be for the most recent perpetrator of the Aurora, Colorado shootings. A killer he is alleged to be and possibly mentally ill, having slid into his current state over the last few years. However, we may always hope that the Lord of All holds those afflicted and all those harmed by the weaknesses and failures of others in his sight.
"Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears" Psalm 23

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