Jared Lee Loughner,tragedy, and ignoring the signs of illness

Every situation is different, I know. I cannot sit here and write about any magic formula to have prevented the tragic incident that happened in Arizona, where Jared Lee Loughner caused so much heartbreak in mere moments. But the fact that keeps bouncing around in my head is this, from a promo for Diane Rehm’s NPR show of 1/11/11 (worth a listen, definitely): “The National Institute of Mental Health reports six percent of Americans over the age of eighteen have a serious psychiatric illness. A look at the challenges of identifying young adults with mental disorders and why so many don’t get treatment.”

Maybe, just maybe — if there had been more understanding, better education, earlier treatment, reduced stigma, more supportive services for Jared, more support for his family — maybe those people in Arizona would be alive today. I can’t say for sure. But I know that, without the treatment that my own son Ben finally is accepting, and without the family love that stayed with us throughout all the chaos of his schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment, he could be off somewhere doing something horribly newsworthy. He might have commited suicide. He could have frozen to death in an Montana cold snap, homeless. He could be locked in a nursing home for the rest of his life. He could have…I can’t even think about this anymore.

Right now, Ben is safe, loved, living in a group home, and doing well in school. Maybe someday he’ll have a job. For now – it’s good. It’s very good. We love him. We have him.

Ben’s nature, fortunately, is sweet, and he has never been violent, even in psychosis. But that is no guarantee that he would make good choices. Oh. No.

My hope is that Ben Behind His Voices, when published this summer, may open a few more eyes to the needs of consumers, families, and providers and agencies who so desperately need education, support, finances, housing, understanding, respect, and integrated treatment.

Legislators, on state and federal levels: Come on! Don’t vote to save a penny in “services” that could lead to the much higher costs – in every way – of another incident like the one that killed so many lives and dreams.

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