A tricky point to lead off with here, but I’m becoming more and more aware as to just how big a problem mental health has become in our world. A couple recent things brought this into focus.
The first was a police report which was on our front page last week. I won’t bore you with the details, but a woman was acting up, raising all sort of mayhem going as far as to wave a gun around, and was jailed on a “mental hold,” as they call it.
The second point was a documentary I saw over the holiday break about mental health, which featured Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, he being infamous as one of the two Columbine school shooters.
Now, let’s take a minute here. Because in both of these cases, the gun waver and the shooter, it doesn’t take a degree in criminal science to acknowledge there’s something really really wrong with someone doing these acts. Nobody should wave a gun around, and, of course, nobody should shoot up a school. But the point here isn’t that these people did a terribly wrong act, the point being is it not possible, in a society which can otherwise accomplish great things, we can’t get in front of these events, we can’t do something which creates a mental health public awareness and a mechanism to deal with it before, well before, these things become an issue?
Because let’s not kid ourselves, by the time you’re waving a gun and screaming, by the time a kid shows up at school with a gun and a plan, it’s too late. At that point we, and really by “we” it’s the taxpayer-funded law enforcement types who have to deal with the situation, and that has a lot of problems, flying bullets, or at least the potential for flying bullets, not in the least. The plan should be, must be, to get in front of these things, to create an environment where people with mental health issues are able to be treated before it becomes a threat to the rest of us.
Take a step back further: Obviously we don’t want flying bullets. But what about the inappropriate acts which are one step below that sort of lethal act? People with hair-trigger tempers, the squealing tire bird-flippers, flipping out on the clerk or waitress, the hot heads, the people there’s no dealing with, the people who are twisted too tight, who are, shall we say, “Not right in the head?”
What if calming down, if responding appropriately to something that bothered you and not lashing out became a public health goal?
Sound ambitious? Well, yeah, but ….
In 1965, 45 percent of Americans smoked. Today that number is down around 15 percent. The change came from a public health initiative, and hey, in this case an initiative which was initially countered by cigarette advertising money.
Case in point: By the late 70s I was a heavy smoker, a habit I got into growing up and then picked up by the cheap cigarettes while I was in the service. Today, it seems absurd that anyone was a pack-a-day or more smoker, like something from some other reality.
The difference was public health.
Two additional points from personal experience: Lots, lots and lots, of police reports don’t make it into the paper. People, to use polite words, acting out inappropriately is a staple of law enforcement activity. And again, by the time the cops are called, it’s too late for tide-turning. Bottom line being there’s a lot of people with mental health issues out there.
Second: I, pre-COVID, spend a lot of time in prisons working with inmates. Some people have to be taught appropriate coping strategies, and in many cases some people were taught inappropriate coping strategies by people who didn’t know any better, and now they’re in prison.
And here, let’s be mercenary about this: Think of how much money we spend on police and courts and prisons and otherwise cleaning up after people who an earlier public-health provided intervention would have kept them from creating the mess they created?
Is it possible it would cost us less money (less taxes) to get out in front of the problems and deal with mental health?
Sue Klebold, and this was striking, looks back with regret on the way she dealt with various issues with her son, and greater regret when she found out how deep the problems were that he kept hidden from her.
An effective mental health intervention, undertaken long before the water came to a boil, could have helped so much, saved so many lives and made a mother’s life so much less painful.