Monday, January 10, 2011

Mental Illness of an Adult Child: Empathy for the Loughners

Earlier today, my very bruised and sutured husband and I were talking about Jared Loughner. The media is rife with stories of his expulsion from Pima Community College, his rejection by the US Army, his YouTube videos, his MySpace ramblings, his purported following of anti-immigration group American Renaissance. By now, I'm sure reporters have even interviewed his dental hygienist and his second grade teacher. The Atlantic is keeping a running account of information that is coming to light on him. It is all very, very sad.

When my husband was recounting what he'd been listening to on the news, about how students and teachers in some of Loughner's classes at Pima CC were afraid of him, he mused for a moment about what on earth Loughner's parents, with whom Jared evidently still lived, could have been thinking letting him get this way, this horribly mentally ill. I turned to him and gave him a gaping stare.

"Really?" I asked.

The prospect of a 22 year old, adult child, in the midst of a mental health crisis or ongoing disorder is, let me tell you, daunting. Our laws and our healthcare practices in this country are stacked against successful treatment, true stabilization of such a child. Parents are left struggling to cope, often with little access to their adult child's healthcare professionals, little participation in their care, and even when that child has a complete and frightening psychotic break, little recourse. Every step of the way is a battle against HIPAA, against your insurance (if you are lucky enough to have it) and with doctors who are just tired of fighting between those extremes, and fighting combative patients, to boot.

From the difficulty of getting mental health crisis care for your adult child, to the wholly inadequate level of intervention offered in most hospitals, all I can say is, you're lucky if your child is obsessed with the Beatles instead of obsessed with guns and congresswomen.

My heart goes out the families of those killed and wounded by this young man. But it also goes out to the Loughners. I'm sure that the end of their long dark tunnel of mental illness has turned out to be a cavern so black and deep that no descriptor for their despair is quite poignant enough.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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