Tag Archives: Jared Lee Loughner

PBS AZ Opening Question: “Who is Ben?”

The interview for PBS in Phoenix, AZ last Thursday began with this wide-open question:
Who is Ben?

How to answer? Well –

Downtown Phoenix Palms
different trees, same mental health issues

He’s my son.

He is a sweet, loving, bright, caring, 29-year-old.

And – he has paranoid schizophrenia.

Very importantly, he is being treated for schizophrenia.



Here’s how I answered this question, and the thought-provoking ones that followed, in this PBS interview on Arizona Horizon with Ted Simons.

In the same state where Jared Lee Loughner just lost his third appeal over forced medications, this is a very important distinction. My son, Ben, is in treatment.  Loughner, who killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others in nearby Tucson just over a year ago, did so as a person whose schizophrenia had gone untreated for too long – and with disastrous results.

Here, in the state of Arizona where many still seem in a state of emotional disbelief over what happened in Tucson, the consequences of inadequate care and services for those suffering with mental illness seems even more obvious – and undeniably important.

In three days, I have made the rounds, courtesy of the Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health (AFBH) and ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, speaking in a community lecture, two media interviews, and meetings with NAMI as well as university students and educators in the field.

It has been a whirlwind – and I have met so many wonderful people who care about the issues that can make a difference for all of us affected by mental illness: people who have been diagnosed, those who love them, and the community they live in.

I have but one story to tell with full accuracy – our own – but I have heard many more in these few days. I hold tight to the belief that, one story at a time, shared without shame and empowered by education and courage, we can all make a difference in the way services for those with mental illness are funded, and to the laws that need to be passed to increase research, provide resources, and restore dignity and health to those who have been let down by the system that used to help them live a useful, dignified life.

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.