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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Few Thoughts on Mental Health

The concern that permissiveness has contributed to the recent mass homicide comes from various directions, including those that point to the gun [particularly the thirty shot clip] and the person who shot it, while some point to outside influences such as violence tinged discourse. This post will touch upon the subject of this article, namely, his mental health status.

Mental illness is personal for Gov. Brewer, including mental illness mixed (as it usually is not) with violence against others. It is more likely that they will fall between the cracks as a member of a troubled class in our society, one of limited resources and conflicting concerns. Like other weak members of the pack, they are more vulnerable to the problems and pratfalls of society that others are more able to handle. This includes violent discourse that many will see as strong metaphor and expression of discontent, but some will take more literally. The fact that we don't know that this specific instance was not "caused" in some fashion by such discourse does not mean we are wrong to use it to flag a concern. Mishandling fire will cause burns.

Were there moments when he could have received help that might have prevented this tragedy? Who knows -- the whole matter, as with all preventive mechanisms -- often is a matter of statistics that is not clear in individual cases. Jared Lee Loughner puts a face on those statistics like those who were his victims and those who helped prevent things to be worse put a face on the positive side of the events. We need such faces to have a more personal feel for what is occurring. The intern who helped save Rep. Giffords life therefore is essential to re-enforce lessons on what true heroism looks like, to teach us how to act in such situations.

There are also those who think our society is too permissive and that this might have worsened the situation. This is normal -- events like these lead us to forget that liberty and safety is not cost-free. Less civil liberties have costs too. Consider a 1970s ruling, an unanimous one (not just the liberals):
He was kept in custody there against his will for nearly 15 years. The petitioner, Dr. J. B. O'Connor, was the hospital's superintendent during most of this period.
Throughout his confinement, Donaldson repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, demanded his release, claiming that he was dangerous to no one, that he was not mentally ill, and that, at any rate, the hospital was not providing treatment for his supposed illness.
The specter of Soviet Russia using psychiatric institutions to serve as a place for political prisoners, that not too long ago being gay was deemed a psychiatric illness and that most who are mentally ill are not dangerous to others, all comes to mind. This also requires special care to deal with those who need assistance, including spending funds that are often deemed an easy place to cut in the midst of budget shortfalls or cries that taxes are too high. This is true even when in the long run, like many investments, the funding is cost effective in the long haul.

Finally, we are already talking about if he is sane enough to execute. A tad early for that. It is notable that his lawyer kept even the Unabomber from being executed. Thus, even if he is not found "not guilty," he might be able to avoid the death penalty [an arbitrary process after all]. A tiny number of people (less than one percent) have been found not guilty by reason of insanity and those who were tend to spend more time in state custody, such as Brewer's son. Since the ultimate decision very well might be left to the jury, in which only a few dissenters can decide the sentence, a common sense view that he was "crazy" can lead to the determination that execution is not warranted. This is not a political assassin like Timothy McVeigh.

Ultimately, the best the general public can do in cases like this is to ponder the situation and try to obtain some sense of meaning from the events. As a funeral and memorial service is ultimately for the living, that is perhaps the best we can do, including to truly honor the dead.