July 24, 2015

Guns, Violence & Mental illness  Revisited


Another awful shooting.  
Now a 59 year old man named John Houser has shot and killed people in a movie theater in Louisiana.  And they say the shooter had "mental issues," and had previously been denied a gun permit.  So how the hell did he get his hands on a gun?


My brother, Paul Flannery, suffered a psychotic break at age 16.  Convinced, after watching the violent miniseries of The Last of the Mohicans, that he had been scalped, he shaved his head, ran through the house screaming, and bolted out the door, stole my parents’ Volkswagon and took off.  Probably the only reason he didn’t hurt anyone was that he was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, medicated, and held in various psychiatric facilities for the next twenty years. He waved around a large knife and threatened us on more than one occasion while home on family visits, but we always talked him down. So his name is not a household name, thank goodness. 


Why wasn't John Houser in a psychiatric facility?  Why is so little being done to help these people before the shootings occurr? Nearly everyone involved points to poor access - or no access - to treatment. Hundreds of psychiatric hospitals  have been closed in the past forty years.  Our nation is seriously deluded if we think defunding psychiatric facilities makes any sense. We need to provide inpatient care for people demonstrating serious mental illness—sometimes long term inpatient care.  Let’s get proper psychiatric and medical care to victims of brain diseases.


Please support the bill now in Congress HR2646. I include a proposed letter you can copy and send on this site's "advocacy" page.  This bill contains provisions that may help at least the psychiatric part of this equation.  


The second part of the equation is guns.  Why is it so easy for people to get their hands on guns?  My brother was fascinated with the movie Dirty Harry.  He often claimed to be Clint Eastwood in that role.  But he never had access to a gun.  When will we stop the mass distribution of guns in our society?  

We need to revamp the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric diseases. AND  we need to stop making it so easy for people in crisis to get their hands on guns.  So let's also write to our elected officials and demand that they do something to reduce the number of guns out there. We need better care for people who have psychiatric disorder AND we need better gun contols.   I'm tired of feeling like a moving target.




June 23, 2015

On Charleston, revisited

Taking down the Confederate Flag is something that should have happened thirty or forty years ago, but it will not stop gun violence.  There will be another explosion somewhere we least expect it.  Some young white man will let loose a barrage of bullets on an unsuspecting public.  We have to make guns less accessible, curb the violent imagery our young adolescents are exposed to on a daily basis, and improve accessibility to mental health care.  Whether Roof shot these people as a way to earn his father's approval or becasuese of all the racisist, white superemecist imagery he found all around him, or because a developing psychosis fixated on black people as the enemy, the way my brother fixated on Native Americans, the fact is we have to do something about all of these problems.



June 19

Charleston - Another awful shooting.  
A 21-year old man named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charlston, South Carolina.  Nine died, including the church's politically active pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

And now we begin the ritual wringing of hands and thumping of breasts. Only this time most of the rhetoric is reserved for the racial aspect of the case. The shooter was wearing racist insignia, and he shot people in a church with a prominent role in the black civil rights movement.  The racial nature of the crime, in the context of racial violence in our country, is significant - crucial, in fact. AND now let’s add another component to this crime. Let’s look at the mix of racial prejudice, accessibility of guns, and untreated mental illness. Throw in violent role models, and we have a perfect storm.

My brother, Paul Flannery, suffered a psychotic break at age 16.  Convinced, after watching the violent miniseries of The Last of the Mohicans, that he had been scalped, he shaved his head, ran through the house screaming, and bolted out the door, stole my parents’ Volkswagon and took off.  Probably the only reason he didn’t kill anyone was that he was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, medicated, and held in various psychiatric facilities for the next twenty years. He waved around a large knife and threatened us on more than one occasion while on family visits, but we always talked him down. So his name is not a household name, thank goodness. 

But Roof joins a dismayingly large cadre of now infamous disturbed young men who committed terrible crimes.  He joins Adam Lanza, 20 years old, who killed 26 people December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members, then shot himself in the head. Prior to driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home.  

And Roof joins Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999 - 12 students and one teacher.  Harris and Klebold then shot themselves in the head in the school's library. 

On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes, shot 70 people and killed 12 inside of a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. Dressed in tactical clothing, Holmes set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms.  His frizzy, dyed red hair and bulging eyes that we all saw in news videos betrayed his identification with the Joker and with violent video game heroes. 

There are actually too many of these incidents to list here: from service men to students—shooting children, presidents and rock stars, from Reagan to John Lennon and Serena to their mothers and fathers and those little children in Connecticut.  In most of these cases, these young men had betrayed some early warning signs of a developing mental illness, but it was shrugged off by the people around them.  Family members often begged for help, but our medical establishment did little to nothing to treat the sick one.  

It’s not just fascination with violent movies and video games.  It’s not just the widespread availability of guns.  And in Charlston it is not just racial prejudice and the violent rhetoric of the most hateful leaders of white supremacists.  It’s almost always the confluence of these factors with untreated serious mental illness.  It is violent role models AND access to weapons AND untreated serious mental illness.

The onset of schizophrenia may appear quite suddenly, as with my brother, most often in their late teens or early twenties.  Similarly, a manic episode of a young person developing bi-polar disorder may involve psychosis and delusions and may pop up suddenly.  But when we look back, parents, teachers and counselors almost always had identified this young person as having a serious problem. It just hadn’t been properly dealt with by the medical community.   The mass shootings are only what we see on the news.  Thousands of these young people commit suicide and/or kill their parents or siblings and it hardly makes a headline.

Why is so little being done to help these people before the shootings occurred? Nearly everyone involved points to poor access - or no access - to treatment. Hundreds of psychiatric hospitals  have been closed in the past forty years.  Our nation is seriously deluded if we think defunding psychiatric facilities makes any sense. We need to provide inpatient care for young people demonstrating the onset of serious mental illness—sometimes long term inpatient care.  Let’s get proper psychiatric and medical care to victims of brain diseases.  

We need to revamp the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric diseases. AND we need to reconsider letting our teenage boys fill their heads with violent, gun-shooting role-playing video games. AND we need to stop putting guns into their hands.  My brother was fascinated with the movie Dirty Harry.  He often claimed to be Clint Eastwood in that role.  But he never had access to a gun.  When will we stop the mass distribution of guns in our society?  

AND, AND, AND.  There weren’t 26 victims at Sandy Hook.  There were 28, including Lanza’s mother and Lanza himself. 15 people died at Columbine High School, including the two shooters. And in South Carolina, a young man’s life is essentially over, along with those he killed and the people hit by shock waves from the incident.  Families are heartbroken.

 Let’s come together as a nation and fix this.