Mental Illness and the Tucson Tragedy

In my post on Monday I suggested that rather than making the Tucson Arizona tragedy a political discussion perhaps we needed to have a conversation about mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released a statement (The Arizona Tragedy and Mental Health Care) calling for an ‘understand[ing of] the nature of mental illness—and to find out what went wrong’. More than anything, NAMI wants people to understand that people with mental illness have made positive contributions and instances of violence like this are extremely rare. They also want to look at the state of mental health care in the United States:

Nationwide, the mental health care system is broken. Arizona, like other states, has deeply cut mental health services. Arizona has a broad civil commitment law to require treatment if it is needed; however, the law cannot work if an evaluation is never conducted or mental health services are not available.

In specific cases such as this, authorities and the news media should seek to objectively determine every factor that may have contributed to the tragedy—so that we can act on lessons learned.

  • Was there a diagnosis?
  • What is the full medical history?
  • When were symptoms first noticed?
  • Did family members receive education about mental illness and support?
  • Did the person or family ever seek treatment—only to have it delayed or denied?
  • Was the person seen by mental health professionals? By whom? How often?
  • Was treatment coordinated among different professionals?
  • Was the person prescribed medication? Was it being taken? If not, why not?
  • Was substance abuse involved?
  • What may have triggered the psychiatric crisis?

I am bold enough to say that everyone knows someone who has some form of mental illness. The symptoms may range from mild (where the person can ‘cover it’ more easily) to severe. The diagnosis may run from depression to bipolar to schizophrenia. The actions of the gunman are not typical, and while the overwhelming majority who suffer from mental illness WILL NOT go on a shooting rampage, they still suffer. Sometimes alone because of the stigma of mental illness. The church needs to be better informed about this as much as everyone else. Coming to Jesus doesn’t mean a switch is turned and all problems go away. All people need to be in a loving community to flourish, and we do not help anyone by isolating those with mental illness. Who knows what would have happened to the man who went on this terror rage – as Scott McKnight said, someone will likely always get through in a broken world. But, seeking better care will help millions who suffer from mental illness.

For those in the United States who think the awareness of mental illness is bad, I would say it’s worse here. I have been very reluctant to ask people to consider seeking further help because when I have done so, that has been a break in the relationship. By asking for consideration, the stigma here is so bad that it’s as if I’m suggesting that they are on the level with someone like Loughner, and the person has refused to talk about it any more with me. It’s a difficult situation and the church needs to talk more about it.

My friend Dana who blogs at Ten Thousand Places posted this article on her Facebook wall.


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