By Tom Quiner
“It was Reagan’s fault.”
This was the expected response to my essay, “The Politics of Mental Health”:
“Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness.”
How did he do this?
“Conventional wisdom suggests that the reduction of funding for social welfare policies during the 1980s is the result of a conservative backlash against the welfare state.”
The only problem is that Reagan didn’t cut funding for social welfare. According to a research paper by Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow for the Heritage Foundation:
“During the four decades preceding the 1996 welfare reform, the number of participants on welfare had never significantly decreased. By 1995, nearly one in seven children was on AFDC. Yet within just a few years of TANF’s implementation, the caseload was cut in half, and employment rates and earnings among single mothers soared.”
In other words, President Clinton is the president who cut welfare, not President Reagan.
In other words, money wasn’t the driving force that threw the mentally ill out onto the streets of America, it was the ACLU. Laws were changed. It became nearly impossible to commit someone who was deranged.
Take America’s latest mass shooter, Aaron Alexis. The guy was off his rocker. The police knew it, but did nothing, as columnist Mona Charen explained:
“When Aaron Alexis called police in Rhode Island last month and complained that he had moved to three different hotel rooms in a single night to elude the “voices” in his head and the “people who were sending vibrations to his body” with a “microwave machine,” he ought to have been taken to a psych unit for evaluation. Instead, police told him to avoid the “people” who were bothering him and went on their way.”
So how do we handle the severely mentally ill? We wait for them to get arrested and placed in the criminal justice system. We hope this happens before they hurt someone, including themselves.
The most heartbreaking story I’ve read in a long time appeared in the Huffington Post. I bet you read it. It was titled, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” The writer, Liza Long, has a son with severe mental illness. He reminds her of the young man, Adam Lanza, who killed all the kids at Newtown.
Here’s why she wrote the piece:
“I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”
Her life is a nightmare:
“I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books.”
She knows violence is possible with her thirteen year old son, so she has a safety plan set up:
“His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan — they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.”
Ms. Long methodically describes what life is like living with her son. Read the article. Your heart will break. She asked for help:
“When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
Tragically, some of the crimes committed by our family or friends with severe mental illness leave bodies littered in their wake. Is the just approach to treating severe mental illness to throw the ill in jail? That is where we’re at, says Ms. Long:
“With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill — Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.”
I know it is fashionable for the Left to blame Ronald Reagan for a multitude of sins, but the man hasn’t been in office for a quarter-of-a-century. What does remain is the carnage of the ACLU’s legislative triumphs to throw the mentally ill out onto the streets in the name of civil liberty. In their mock benevolence, thousands upon thousands of lives have been destroyed.
So what do we need to do? Guns aren’t the root problem, mental health is. Ms. Long implores the Left to listen:
“I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.”