The recent events in Newtown, CT, have brought stark clarity to some issues that need addressing.
There’s been almost as many people talking about the need for more mental health care assistance as there have been for changing gun control laws, both of which are valid discussions.
The mental health question affected me more than gun control ever did–growing up in the Bleedingest Heart Liberalest Household Ever, in the Northeast, gun control was nothing more than something to get aggrieved over.
But mental health–that was something we knew about firsthand.
When I was in college, my dad let my uncle Paul come to live with us after suffering a nervous breakdown. Paul held a Ph.D from Harvard, and undergrad degrees from Brown and Yale. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart, clearly. He was also a paranoid schizophrenic. He was okay, if still kind of odd, when taking his medication, but of course feeling ‘normal’ made him think he could go off his meds, and then he thought he was behaving normally, even when he was not.
He lived nocturnally, and survived on diet Coke and sweets. He was particularly unpleasant to me, and I grew to really dislike him, and living there. In fact, I gave an ultimatum to my dad: Either he goes or I go.
Paul stayed. I left, and went and spent school vacations with my mom, a situation neither my mom nor I wanted (it was a horrible experience, and if I wrote memoirs rather than fiction, I might go into detail). I was devastated that he would choose Paul over me.
Years later, my dad and I were having one of those heart-to-hearts that happen after both people are theoretical grownups, and he told me a health care worker had delivered another ultimatum to my dad: Either he stays with you, or he’ll end up on the streets. There was no help, at least not enough, help that could be given to Paul at that time. It was up to the family to take care of him, or let him deteriorate.
That was in the early ’80s, and it doesn’t seem as though things have changed. My heart hurts for people who are lost and without help. I am resolved to try to do something, even if it’s just something as minor as signing a petition. I am glad Paul had my dad, but so many other people don’t.