MSNBC TAKES A SHALLOW DIVE INTO MENTAL ILLNESS

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Sadly, the road to mental-illness coverage is fashioned from similar material.

nicolle wallace
Nicolle Wallace credit: Abovfold, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nicolle Wallace is an elite and excellent television journalist. She hosts a Monday-Friday marathon of two-hour news interviews, MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, in which she and her guests dissect the flood of political stories pouring out of the nation’s capital. Riding the crest of this flood for the last several years, of course, has been the Captain Bligh of American conversation, Donald Trump. Trump’s inevitable dominance of the daily news cycle guarantees that much of the expert talk will recapitulate what has been reported on previous days. This is hardly Wallace’s fault, and she brings heroic preparation, intensity, and palpable human passion to her daily goal of making it all fresh and compelling yet again. My wife Honoree and I are grateful viewers of her program.

Aware of her thematic constrictions, Wallace and her producers made an enterprising decision not long ago: they would embark on an occasional series of mini-documentaries exploring topics rarely or glancingly noticed on regular newscasts. Under the rubric Deadline: Special Report, these segments are being streamed on NBC’s affiliate cable channel, Peacock, and occasionally on Wallace’s MSNBC show.  

As Wallace explained to Variety, “The idea is to do multiple series and deep dives into single topics without overlapping too much with what we do on the broadcast.”

This is a rare and noble impulse, yet it comes with a caveat: when you promise to do deep dives, you need to dive deep.

The debut Special Report is streaming now on Peacock: the four-part America’s Mental Health Emergency. Three of the four interview guests offer a tipoff that the Report’s aims are no more than snorkel-level. 

Lindsey Vonn credit Duncan Rawlinson CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

These three are celebrities. Granted, they are celebrities who have “gone through a lot,” as the saying has it. Yet their presence as guests only reinforces the weary television trope that no issue will engage an audience unless a super-star shows up to validate it. The travails of Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and the actors Rosie Perez and Taraji P. Henson, while clearly real and devastating to them, do not begin to embrace the totality of what “mental illness” means at the depths of its menace to human reason. 

The fourth-segment guest nudges the Report toward this level, yet it’s a faint nudge. Wallace interviews the estimable Shilpa Taufique, Ph.D., director of the Division of Psychology at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Dr. Taufique is also the founder of the small Comprehensive Adolescent Rehabilitation Education center (CARES), which consults with distressed children.

I mean no disrespect for Dr. Taufique’s good work when I point out that her segment has the whiff of “obligatory,” and serves to extend the great “sin” of the Report’s first three episodes: the sin of omission. 

Omitted is any mention of the emperor of all mental maladies. 1.  It goes by several names: serious (or chronic) mental illness. Brain disease. The psychotic family of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder. No journalistic project that calls itself a “special” “deep dive” into “America’s mental-health emergency” has a right to ignore it. Yet they do, routinely.

The ultimate origins of this abhorrent disease are not yet fully understood by neuroscience. It is known to be partly inherited, a (relatively) rare cocktail of flawed genes that usually forms in mid-adolescence, when the brain is subject to a massive “pruning,” a replacement of outworn genes with new ones that will control the brain until the end of life. The chaotic power of these genes, their obliteration of reason and self-awareness, can be touched off by severe stress of various kinds. 

One would not know that by watching the four installments of America’s Mental-Health Emergency. One would be part of the vast majority of Americans. It’s possible that Nicolle Wallace and her producers are in the dark—out of their depth—as well. Serious Mental Illness is an awful calamity that calls up primal fear. It repels people who still buy into the medieval superstition that “crazy people,” “whack jobs” and “psychos” can shape-shift into murderous monsters. (Think upon the myths of Dracula, the Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde.)

This superstition, this bigotry, this denial have taken an obscene toll on society. Half measures and misspent funds drain our wealth. (Think of the homeless crisis and of the mentally damaged people in that population.) Political leaders remain benighted and callous. County jails, urban and small-town, are filled with suffering souls who belong in mental care centers, watched by doctors who can keep the victim stabilized with medication. (The brutal jail version of special care is solitary confinement, which increases psychosis.) General hospitals toss uninsured patients into the streets. Mindless policies such as the HIPAA code, which prohibits family members from learning the condition of a hospitalized loved one, remain on the books. Lobotomies remain legal. The manifold horror stories of psychotic victims barely out of childhood yet brutalized as criminal adults continue apace, as they have since the Bedlam Asylum was opened in 1329. Mothers’ frantic pleas for help, for simple understanding, continue to haunt my in-box and my dreams five years after No One Cares About Crazy People was published. I recall a long evening of emailing back and forth with a mother in Florida, trapped inside her house as her deracinated son pounded on the door, threatening to kill her.

And how has MSNBC/Peacock’s “deep dive” enlightened us?

It pains me to write what I am about to write, Nicolle Wallace. I admire you and know your intentions are good. But I am writing it out of mourning, and in adrenaline and blood.

Of Lindsay Vonn, who suffers from depression, you tell us that she “was the world’s greatest skier and could fly down a sheet of ice at 80 miles an hour.” You tell a panel of Today Show staffers that “Vonn was so beautiful, so vulnerable, so open” in the interview.

Tyler West credit: Kimmy West

I could get you an introduction to Tyler West, a non-celebrity who is also beautiful, vulnerable, and open. Or was. Tyler, who suffers from bipolar disorder and autism, languishes in a federal prison on an unsubstantiated charge of statutory rape, and for crossing the lawn to a neighbor’s house one night in a psychotic state, opening the unlocked screen door, and falling asleep on a sofa. He has been beaten by inmates to the point of brain injury; thrown into solitary; denied medication. I have called Tyler “a symptom of America’s broken mental health care system.” I have contacted lawyers, advocates, even a Senator, asking for intervention. No one cares. Damndest thing.

Taraji P. Henson via Wikimedia Commons

Of Taraji P. Henson, you report that “Taraji’s character in Empire was a magical, you know, iconic kind of woman. She was tough, she was strong . . . I talked to her for almost an hour.”  You continue, “They [the celebrities] don’t say anything about fame. Fame doesn’t protect them from any of this. And what they all said and what Taraji said most powerfully was I get up every day and try to get through the day. Rosie Perez made the same point.”

I could introduce you to many people who are incapable of getting up.

Rosie Perez credit: Joella Marano from Manhattan, NYC, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You drew Rosie Perez out on her traumatic childhood. Yet the closest you or she come to a clinical diagnosis was to report that she suffered from “PTSD.” PTSD might or might not have led her into serious mental illness. We never learn.

I could go on—oh, could I go on—but I really do not want to berate you, Ms. Wallace, or to belabor the point. I think I have made the point clear. Serious mental illness, like a certain former president whom you mention daily, seems to be above the law. Or beside it. Or ignored by it. And ignored by most state and national leaders and journalists who might hold the malefactors and policy laggards and brutal jail wardens accountable; increase local mental healthcare centers instead of building new jails; develop guidelines for public/family education along several fronts—and ultimately mobilize opinion for the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Mental Health, which would oversee these and other dire, overdue needs.

Now, there would be a deep dive.  

https://noonecaresfilm.com/

THE FILM WEBSITE FOR “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE”

As many of you might know, my 2017 book No One Cares About Crazy People is in development as an independent documentary film.

Gail Freedman

The director, Gail Freedman, is expanding the book’s theme to include not only the story of my schizophrenia-afflicted family, but stories of similar families across the United States, with interviews by Gail and footage by her crews in various cities and towns.

This work-in-progress has great potential in expanding the story of serious mental illness, and in educating both political leaders and citizens about SMI: its unsuspected prevalence in the population and its untold costs in public safety, human misery and to our national wealth. Combating SMI is a feasible task, yet it remains crippled by the appalling lack of societal information about its causes, dangers, and treatment. The damage is compounded by the unconscionable negligence among policymakers, law enforcement, prison systems, educators, and even some psychiatrists.

Gail is forging ahead on this project—traveling the country to gather portraits of ravaged families and struggling victims—even as she continues to seek funding for the film’s completion.

You can help. Gail has created a powerful website, filled with information and links to glimpses of the families and experts she has interviewed. You can access it at  https://noonecaresfilm.com.

Please review this shocking yet hopeful documentary, and help Gail complete it and present it to the world.

MATT GAETZ, WILL YOU STOP RANTING AND START HELPING?!

Here is an open letter to a divisive Republican Florida Congressman who yet might be of use.

Mr. Gaetz:

The July 16 edition of Salon reprinted an Alternet article that quoted some of the vilest, most callous and repugnant remarks I have ever read—and that’s saying something. The remarks were glazed in an oily hypocrisy as transparent as it was fraudulent.

Matt Gatez. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The remarks were yours, Mr. Gaetz. (I can’t bring myself to call you “Congressman” Gaetz, because “Congressman” is an honorific, and I have never discovered anything in your character that suggests honor. I think I’ll call you “Matt.”) You voiced them during a podcast on June 8. They were aimed at the bereaved Congressman Jamie Raskin, whose son Thomas, on New Year’s Eve 2020, committed suicide. 

The podcast was hosted by your spirit animal, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Marjorie sat mooing with approval at your side as you spoke, occasionally belching out a supportive comment of her own. 

Do you recall those remarks, Matt? I do. The thrust of them was that Jamie Raskin was no longer able to discharge his congressional duties. Because his son had committed suicide.

There are levels of inhumanity, Matt. There are levels of character destruction, of barbarism and bullying, of abusive self-degrading malice. You know these levels, Matt, because they are where you and your fellow congressional cretins live like feral cliff-dwellers. Your horde has pumped these rancid values into the public discourse over the last decade; you’ve done your best to normatize them. To an appalling extent you’ve succeeded.

And now you have broken new mud. You’ve hacked out a new bottom level. No slur, no lie, no amount of hateful falsity in your public past can match your soulless verbal mugging of Congressman Raskin, a man of rare high character and rarer courage who just now is performing the definitive public service of his life: holding to account the moral miscreants like you who thought, on January 6, 2021, that it would be a good idea to follow Donald Trump’s goading and vandalize the United States Capitol building in Washington.

Now you want Jamie Raskin out of Congress—you know, for his own good. Coincidence? Maybe.

You put on your Sigmund Freud pants, Matt, to explain to us laypeople why Jamie Raskin must retreat from the public scene: 

“I think that he takes that trauma and he associates it now with his work in the Congress to such an interwoven way that he’s unable to do the congressional experience outside of just the dungeon of that personal trauma . . . I think it makes him look at everything in these very like, dark and severe ways.”

Is that what you like think, Matt? Your . . . analytical gifts are stunning. You kept your own hide safely distant from the violence that day, yet you somehow divined without evidence that it was a bunch of far-left (“anti-fa”) zealots who triggered all the trouble. Still, you were quoted as saying, “We’re proud of the work we did on January 6th to make legitimate arguments about election integrity.” Doesn’t this make you—oh, a proud far-left anti-fa zealot?

Jamie Raskin,  U.S. representative for Maryland’s 8th congressional district 

Here, though, is the nub of it, Matt: Congressman Raskin will surmount your venomous hypocrisy. Your real victims are the millions of Americans whose lives have been scarred by a child’s mental illness and/or suicide. Often these people are shunned into the bargain by a society that assumes they are crazy themselves, or somehow to blame. I speak from experience. Now they—we—Congressman Raskin—suffer a fresh round of gratuitous stigma, via your clueless and falsehearted claim that such bereavement robs survivors of the ability to function. 

Statistics on mental illness vary, as do definitions of mental illness. The National Association on Mental Illness reports that more than 14 million people suffered serious mental illness (incurable brain diseases such as schizophrenia) in 2021. Lesser forms of mental illness affected a fifth of the population. Suicide rates are easier to pin down. Some 46 thousand Americans killed themselves in 2021. About half of these were mentally ill. The Raskin family courageously announced that Tommy, a Harvard Law School student, had suffered from serious depression for years. Depression is a leading symptom of chronic bipolar disorder.

The Raskin family made their announcement to combat stigma. 

What was your own point, Matt?

History and common sense make you look like a fool, Matt, perish the thought. “And death shall have no dominion,” wrote Dylan Thomas, and for most bereaved people, this is at least partly true. They forge on. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lost their beloved 11-year-old son Todd to typhoid fever in February 1862, in the midst of the Civil War. Less than a year later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Meningitis took the life of Susy Clemens, Mark Twain’s cherished daughter, while Sam and Olivia were away in Europe. “It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live” Sam wrote. Yet he did live, and wrote some of his more important works before his own death in 1910. 

The list goes on to encompass the millions of unknown parents and siblings who bravely have forged on, electing to consecrate their lives and work to the memories of their lost loved ones. 

Your intrusion into the Raskins’ grief was out of line, Matt Gaetz. Only those who have actually lost a child, to suicide or otherwise, are qualified to discuss the despair that descends, against their will, until “comes wisdom through the awful grace of God,” per Aeschylus.

The Alternet quotes you as saying, piously, “[Y]ou know, no one would ever want to lose a child, particularly to suicide,” and, “As human beings, our hearts go out to him.” How true and how touching. You could prove your sincerity and commitment to these remarks in many ways. 

The American mental healthcare system is in shambles. This year, committees in both houses of Congress at last began to focus on solutions. The Senate Finance Committee has released a discussion draft regarding mental health care for young people in Medicaid. In May, President Biden released his draft for a comprehensive strategy. And less than a month ago, your body, the House of Representatives, passed the Mental Health and Well Being Act, and two other acts aimed at reclaiming those afflicted with madness and addiction.

These are essential yet tiny steps. Massive work remains to be done: reforming our medieval criminal-justice system as it relates to mentally ill prisoners; rewriting outdated and harmful policy mandates; training many more care workers; speeding up access to diagnosis and treatment; vastly increasing public education; perhaps even creating a cabinet-level office to unify these and all other operations. Oh yes: and reducing stigma. 

Have you thought of taking a leadership role in some or all of these initiatives, Congressman Matthew Gates? Being a part of seminal reform in mental healthcare would give your legacy a priceless quantum boost. It might even get your thoughts diverted from political conspiracies—which, after all, as you might know, can be a sign of paranoia.

“Hope, hope to the last . . .”

. . And there are a couple of new reasons to hope, in the struggle against mental illness.

Tomorrow Was Yesterday (subtitled “Explosive First-Person Indictments of the US Mental Health System— Mothers Across the Nation Tell It Like It Is”) is the second of two essential books produced by the fiercely eloquent Dede Moon Ranahan since her son Pat died in July 2014, in a hospital psychiatric ward. It follows on the heels of Sooner Than Tomorrow: A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family, and Everyday Life, which appeared in April 2019, and was written while Pat was still living, and no one foresaw his imminent death.

Dede Ranahan

Her first book reached out to mothers of afflicted and lost children, making common cause with their plight and her own. (And why is it, I ask again, that mothers seem always to be the point-parents in dialogues about m.i.? Where are the fathers?!) This second work is even more ambitious. It’s a compendium of stories that Ms. Ranahan has exhaustively retrieved from mothers in similar straits. It brings to mind the protean books of Studs Terkel more than a generation ago. Ms. Ranahan writes that she chose this interview-and-transcribe approach in lieu of “an extended rant,” and she has been forthright about the psychic weariness this journey has cost her. If you are lucky enough not to have lived in this horrific “sub-nation,” with its attendant catastrophes of diagnosis, effective treatment, ruinous healthcare costs, courtroom and criminal justice, effective political leadership, and awareness in the culture at large, please read Ms. Ranahan. And then get busy. You could help change the world. And DeDe Ranahan is now enshrined in the literature of enlightenment.

The second reason for fresh hope is a new call to arms by Thomas Insel, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a figure known as “the nation’s psychiatrist.” It is titled Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health.

Thomas R. Insel — Wikipédia
Thomas Insel


In the tradition of the late D.J. Jaffe, but with a psychiatrist’s grounding in nosology and a journalist’s zeal for social and civic truths, Insel explores the strange disconnect between stunning advances in the understanding of why and how the human brain can run amok, and the infuriating stagnation of actual reclamation for the mentally ill. He writes with laser-like clarity and the assurance of a master in his field.

I can’t recommend this book with any more persuasion than that of the great advocate Pete Earley, who writes on the back cover:

“’Healing’ is truly one of the best books ever written about mental illness, and I think I’ve read them all. Dr. Insel speaks as a parent, scientist, doctor . . . defining what’s wrong and offering clear-headed solutions—all the while guiding us forward with compassion, goodness, and hope in this juggernaut wake-up call.”


“ . . . and hope.” Yes.

CHRIST! WHAT ARE PATTERNS FOR? –Amy Lowell, 1916

I am wearily–yes, wearily–posting links to two recent pieces by the peerless mental-healthcare blogger Pete Earley. Below them I’m linking to an archive within the blog you are reading now.


Their common denominator: they are about young brain-damaged men enduring Hell-on-earth lives on the streets of America as those who love them–mothers, sisters–trudge on through the years, and decades, trying vainly to awaken the conscience of the–the what? The whom? The withered, laughably misnamed “mental health” systems in their states that are restricted by outdated boneheaded rules and by the soul-deadened payrollers who run them. By the distracted politicians who appoint those payrollers and promptly forget them. By the oblivious electorate that will never form a constituency to keep the politicians on the case.


It’s all part of a . . . pattern.


http://www.peteearley.com/2022/02/11/mother-fights-relentless-battle-to-help-mentally-ill-son-why-arent-austin-officials-helping-her/


http://www.peteearley.com/2022/01/24/warrior-mom-describes-pitfalls-successes-navigating-californias-mental-health-system/


http://www.noonecaresaboutcrazypeople.com/tag/mark-rippee/

Godspeed you, “Killer Mike”

An gesture of compassion, forgiveness, and hope at the dawning of 2022!

KILLER MIKE OFFERS TO ASSIST ‘MENTALLY DISTURBED WHITE MAN’ WHO VANDALIZED HIS ATLANTA BARBERSHOP

After his barbershop was vandalized by a mentally disturbed white man in Atlanta, Run The Jewels group member Killer Mike offered to help the man if anyone could identify him.

Killer Mike, a recording artist who is very vocal about supporting and enhancing Black entrepreneurship, posted a message on his Instagram account. He described his place of business being vandalized but used the moment to encourage others to “check on your mentally ill loved ones.”

Read the full story here: https://www.blackenterprise.com/killer-mike-calls-out-mentally-disturbed-white-man-for-vandalizing-his-atlanta-barbershop/

The Crumbleys, Part II

The school shooting in Michigan last week has opened up new avenues for thought and action, and re-opened old ones. We must not let this awful opportunity evaporate.

More than a week after the Oxford High School shootings in Michigan, the episode still bristles with implications that drain the will and resources of mental-health advocates. Granted, we are not (yet) nearly as overwhelmed as, say, hospital staffers in the resurgent Covid plague, though there is some psychic overlap.

School shootings have haunted our collective consciousness for decades—a hoary specter that still grips us with dread—but this case brings new horrors to consider. It was not just any old spree of classroom murders carried out by a mid-adolescent with a semiautomatic handgun bought for him as a Christmas present by his Dad on Black Friday. This one dropped some new elements on us—and managed to bypass an element of omission. Advocates and all people of conscience must grapple with them, no matter the tedium and the elusiveness of solutions. Our sanity as a nation is at stake.

So, what must we grapple with?

First, a recap: the 15-year-old shooter, Ethan Crumbley, faces 24 felony charges for slaughtering four classmates and wounding seven other people with that semiautomatic handgun lying around in his parents’ bedroom. The charges include first-degree murder and terrorism. Ethan was captured before he could turn his Christmas present on himself. This is relatively rare, as is the high count of charges. The terrorism count may be unprecedented, and might set a legal precedent. Or it might set a legal obfuscation: The Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told CNN, last week:

“There is no playbook about how to prosecute a school shooting and candidly, I wish . . . it didn’t occur so I wouldn’t have to consider it, but when we sat down, I wanted to make sure all of the victims were represented in the charges that we filed against this individual . . . If that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.”

Well, with all respect, Ms. McDonald, it might be mental illness. More on that in a moment.

The most striking new element is that the boy’s father and mother, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. This fact turns the spotlight on the criminal culpability of parents who leave lethal weapons unconcealed and unlocked in the household. Its implications could be seminal. The Crumbleys, as media accounts have made clear, are appalling and stupefyingly negligent parents. There’s a lot of that going around.  

James and Jennifer Crumbley 

Here the “element of omission” takes center stage. Are the Crumbleys psychotic? Is Ethan psychotic? What is “psychotic”? How do we identify psychosis, and what do we do about it when we think we’ve seen it at work? Is this case an example of “shared psychosis,” in which some of the victims do not show clinical symptoms? What are the responsibilities—and the risks—of intervening in the actions of one who might be in a psychotic state?

These are old, wearying questions. They have been charged with fresh urgency by the bloody Oxford affair. Or should have been. After days of online searching, I have not been able to find an indication that any of the Crumbleys has received psychiatric diagnosis. I’ve found nothing but the most glancing speculation that serious mental illness—genetically inherited brain disease—was present in any of these people. And I certainly have found no serious, informed discussion about this possibility. And so the Crumbley story remains a missed opportunity at least as a “teachable moment,” a broad, ongoing national discussion on the nature of this beast. And on the policies—judicial/legal, educational, budgetary, and ethical—that scream out for rapid and thoroughgoing reform.

I am going to offer an example of policy dysfunction that I published in my previous blog. It was articulated by D.J. Jaffee, a disciple of the pioneering E. Fuller Torrey, who founded the invaluable Treatment Advocacy Center. Shortly before his death last year, Jaffe restated an observation he’d made many times in his talks and writings. It bears strongly on the Crumbley case:

“The law says we can’t do anything until after the psychotic victim becomes dangerous to self or others. As ludicrous as it sounds, the law requires dangerous behavior rather than prevents it.”

Credit: Database Center for Life CC BY-SA 2.1 JP via Wikimedia Commons

I cannot say whether Ethan Crumbley or his parents are mentally ill. A competent psychiatrist should and must make that call. I will say that telltale signs are blinking red.

There are Ethan’s notebook jottings, noticed by teachers: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “Blood everywhere,” and “my life is useless,” and “the world is dead.” There are his sketches depicting a bullet and a bullet-riddled body.

There is the now-infamous message texted by Jennifer Crumbley to her son the day before he shot up Oxford High School, after a teacher told her that Ethan was searching for ammunition online in class: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” And of course there is the fact of James buying that hideous weapon for his young son in the first place.

And there is the widely accepted thesis that if the rare onset of schizophrenia is going to occur, it typically occurs in mid-adolescence, Ethan’s period of life. This is the stage in which the prefrontal cortex is pruning itself of outworn synapses and generating new ones. If a genetic disorder produces over-pruning, an oversupply of normally essential chemicals such as dopamine can rush in and produce an imbalance that permanently damages the brain. (No thesis is yet seen as conclusive in the study of this affliction.)

Jurgitta, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The social effects of serious mental illness spread out in a widening cone from the victim through the family, the community, our schools, our political life, and the health of the nation. Mass shootings continue to be rare, but the debilitating dread of mass shootings is nearly pandemic. The cumulative costs are as under-appreciated by the populace as the nature of the disease itself. Ignorance, apathy, and fear continue to rule.

I have called in the past for creation of a federal cabinet-level department that would unify, critique, and extend policymaking in all these problem areas as well as others. Foundational reform of our disgraceful jails and prison systems, de facto catch-basins for the insane, for instance. Solitary confinement, that turns sane prisoners into madpeople and the mad into vegetables, must be abolished.

D.J. Jaffe disagreed with me about this. He felt that such a department would only add another layer of bureaucracy.

All right. Let’s add another layer of bureaucracy.

Mental-health reform is borne on the backs, overwhelmingly, of women: mothers of victims, mostly. Their advocacy work in the past twenty years alone has been heroic and sporadically effective. But these “secular nuns”—the phrase just came to me—are largely worn out and disillusioned. They carry on, but we must not depend on them to keep doing the trench-work that the problem demands. Our advocates need reinforcement—collective national reinforcement. Society must be made safe from our Ethan Crumbleys. Yet we must not let things rest at primitive blame and punishment. Humanity and moral justice call us to protect the mentally ill and to reclaim them if we can. This would be the most honorable means of protecting ourselves, and reclaiming our own souls.

HERE WE DON’T GO AGAIN

The mass shooting in Michigan compels us to look again at psychosis, mayhem, and the enormous difficulties in warding off this witch’s brew.

The Crumbley family of Oxford, Michigan, and the victims of Ethan Crumbley’s early semiautomatic Christmas present purchased by Dad on the well named Black Friday, have been on my mind for the past week. I wish they would go away, and I wish It would go away. But they won’t go away, and It won’t go away. “It” being nightmarish gun violence in America.

Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley, James Crumbley mugshots


In writing about annihilations such as this one, I would normally (strange word, that—“normally”)—I would normally jump astride one of my hobbyhorses as a mental-health reform advocate: I would renew my call for early intervention—diagnosing—as a means of thwarting people in the throes of psychosis before they act out their fantasies.


After Oxford and all its complexities, I realize that this “solution” is not enough. It may not even be attainable. Yet we have to try. We can’t go on. We’ll go on.


Instead of dashing off on the hobbyhorse, I have spent the week studying the case and renewing my layman’s education in mental illness. Here’s what has popped up:


It seems clear that the teachers and staff at Oxford High School went nearly as far down the road as humanly possible in reacting to the red alerts in Ethan Crumbley’s pre-shooting behavior. Nearly. On the day before the gunfire that left four students dead and seven wounded, a teacher spotted the 15-year-old Ethan looking at iPhone images of bullets in class. The next morning—D-Day—a teacher noticed Ethan at work on some deeply ominous sketches and writings: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “Blood everywhere,” and “my life is useless,” and “the world is dead.” The sketches depicted a bullet and a bullet-riddled body.

The teacher reported these to a school counselor. Rushed to the counselor’s office, Ethan dismissed the materials as plans for a video game he was working on. (Police later found two videos that the 15-year-old had recorded on the Monday night before the slaughter. They showed him predicting what he was to do the following day.) The superintendent of schools called James and Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan’s now-infamous parents. In the 90 minutes it took them to arrive, school staff members observed and talked to Ethan as he sat in the office. His Christmas present lay unsuspected in his backpack. On arrival, Crumbleys were told that Ethan needed counseling. James and Jennifer shrugged it off and left. The school administration let the boy return to class. It was better, they figured, than letting him go home to an empty house.

At around 1 p.m., Ethan Crumbley began visiting classrooms.

I wrote above that the teachers and staff at Oxford High School had done “nearly” everything possible to prevent a young person in psychosis from a murderous rampage. What else might they have done? Here we enter the realm of the conjectural, and clarity is essential.


Those staff members acted—at least on the early evidence—with exceptional initiative and responsibility. Should they have gone further and called police? Perhaps. Michigan law permits protective custody and transport to a hospital by police if an officer observes behavior that suggests “a serious danger to self or others.” Would Ethan have sat and waited for the police to arrive at the school, and then thoughtfully exhibited his psychotic symptoms? Not likely, even should the officers have been trained to handle the situation, far from a foregone conclusion. As for these parents giving their permission . . . well . . .

The great, recently deceased advocate D. J. Jaffe best summed up this perverse tic of social policy:

“The law says we can’t do anything until after the psychotic victim becomes dangerous to self or others. As ludicrous as it sounds, the law requires dangerous behavior rather than prevents it.”

So there we are. And here we don’t go again.

Related to the subject of psychosis and mayhem, my week of re-education led me to an essay that merits reading by anyone interested in this issue. It has prompted me to re-think some facile assumptions I’ve let myself slip into. More on it tomorrow.

State Senator Cindy Friedman Gets It!

Among the most infuriating barriers to mental healthcare reform is the indifference of policymakers. The mentally ill don’t form a significant constituency, in voting or in contributions. Thus, you know, nobody cares.

State Senator Cindy Friedman, a Massachusetts Democrat, has burst through this complacency. Working with some colleagues mentioned below, Senator Friedman has crafted an important new bill and shepherded it through the Senate. It is on its way to the state’s House of Representatives for enactment into law.

Massachusetts State Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington). Massachusetts General Court, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The ABC Act, as it is called, should be a model for every state in the nation. And it signals to reform advocates that they have a new champion. Kudos to Senator Friedman. And thanks to my fellow advocate Donna Erickson for the heads-up!

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