When it comes to mental illness, what came first? Was it the illness itself that created a damaged family environment, or did the environment cultivate the illness? I'm thinking about specifically Jared Loughner and his parents. Jared Loughner, aged 22, lived with his parents in what's been characterized as a tense relationship. His mother worked but his father did not. The Loughners have yet to release a reportedly prepared statement expressing their thoughts to the public.
After yesterday's post, I've had some interesting exchanges with people, all of whom I respect, about whether there is blame to be placed on Loughner's parents. Did they breed a monster? Did they allow him to descend into a violent, truly mad state of mind and do nothing? Did they try to get him help and run into the many obstacles I mention in my post below, ultimately finding they could not help their son? Neighbors variously say they were always standoffish, aggressive, angry, withdrawn, and are now devastated by their son's actions. Reports that Pima Community College delivered a letter to the parents home stating that Jared Loughner could not return to classes until he had had a mental health exam, and had been cleared by a mental health specialist, have been construed by many to indicate the the parents failed to get their son help and thereby have failed not just him, but all those people who have been impacted by his actions that fateful day. But Loughner is 22 years old and they could not force him to seek an evaluation or care, or to participate in such care, or to take his medication if prescribed. Some people say that they could have kicked him out if he wouldn't cooperate. The decision to put an adult child out on the street when they are having mental health problems is such a tough one. If the same thing had happened, would we then be blaming the parents for having essentially abandoned their son when his need was great? What if your mentally ill child is harmed while on the streets? What if he/she harms someone else? Loughner had been cited by Pima CC Police on at least several occasions for using illegal drugs. What if you kick your child out and his drug use worsens and it all culminates in his or someone else's death? There are a million frustrating, frightening, helpless things that go into trying to care, even marginally, for a mentally ill adult child. Caring for that child by allowing them to stay at home hopefully safeguards them, and others. But in this case, it didn't. Perhaps it made it worse because there was no pressure to change his situation. We will never know. There are no easy answers here. But let me tell you in no uncertain terms, until you've spent a few days in the shoes of someone trying to seek care for an adult child who is mentally ill, you should not be quick to point a finger, or to place blame. You, unless you have lived it, have simply no idea what the fear- both for and of your child- can do to a parent. And the idea of living with that for months and possibly years? I am sure that it would make anyone angry, withdrawn, or a whole slew of emotions not related to being pleasantly socially accessible.
One of my friends, a man I consider a genuine do-gooder, mentioned that he hopes Jared Loughner gets the death penalty because of the utter heinousness of what he did. Of course, my readers know that I don't support the death penalty. And I support it even less for the mentally ill or cognitively challenged, as readers of this blog well know. But what will we do with this young man? Assuming that the online evidence, which can be traced as far back as 2007, is indicative of his mental state, he seems to fit a lot of criteria for a paranoid schizophrenic who has had a violent psychotic break. (I might add that if you watch the video below, you'll see that he was never threatening violence, even at his college and that he kept all the materials related to Giffords locked in a safe so even his parents couldn't see them.) When someone is supremely guilty but also supremely insane, what are we to do with them? He must clearly never be free again, since many times, mental health patients cease taking their medication when left to their own devices. He could go right back out and do more murder and mayhem. But if he is restored, relatively speaking by medication, to some state of mental stabilty, clarity, sanity, what do we tell Jared Loughner about his punishment for his crimes?