Although the instinct following the Sandy Hook massacre, for some, was to direct obscenities toward the gunman, my feelings were different. Instead, I felt a deep sadness over the question of whether this might not have happened if the gunman had been living in an institution where he could have been treated for his illness and kept from accessing guns.
The details still aren’t clear on what psychological illness he had, but I refuse to believe a human in his right mind would randomly open fire on innocent children.
After reading a book called January First, a memoir by Michael Schofield about a father trying to handle his violent schizophrenic preschool-aged daughter, I started to understand how difficult it is for families to get help for their mentally ill children. For instance, I didn’t realize that there’s no definitive place you can take your sick child for long periods of time—hospitals are generally short-term stays, and few even have openings for the mentally ill. If you don’t have much money, forget the idea of a hospital altogether. And the thought of taking one’s violent child to prison is completely absurd. Even a young adult with a mental illness shouldn’t be pent up in prison; though criminals choose to commit their crimes, the mentally ill don’t choose their illnesses.
Additionally, there’s no sensible separation of people within these facilities based on their level of mental illness. I can vouch for this. I spent three days in the psych ward when I was 20, which I don’t tell people about often in part because of the stigma. I was clinically depressed and had been taking meds, but at that moment I was just in a really terrible spot after a breakup and had deeply injured my wrists during a panic attack. With the help of a close friend, I admitted myself to the hospital.
I got there around midnight, where they took at least two hours to determine whether I was a threat to myself or not. After saying they didn’t feel comfortable letting me return home, they transported me to a different hospital’s psych ward. I got there at 4:30 in the morning and had to fill out paperwork for a half hour. At five a.m., emotionally and physically exhausted, I thought they were going to let me go to bed, but they said I had to speak with a psychiatrist. I sat in her office, dumbstruck as she began to unload on me.
“You see those cuts on your wrist? You seriously think any man will want to marry you with those? You seriously think you’ll be able to get a good job?”
Maybe this tough love approach worked on some people, but she pushed me over the edge.