By Denise Tessier
Once again, an UpFront Journal columnist has stepped up with a piece that counters and tempers what some might consider a misguided column that appeared on the Journal’s editorial page.
This time, I refer to Joline Gutierrez Krueger’s Jan. 14 piece, “Sick for a Long Time. . .And Nobody Stepped In.”
The piece was typical for Krueger. She brought home the anguish surely being felt by parents of Tucson shooter Jared Loughner by interviewing a Bernalillo County mother whose child, like Loughner, was once “wonderful, beautiful, loving” and who then changed.
I was glad to see Krueger’s piece because the Washington Post column the Journal had run on its Editorial page Jan. 13, “Tragedy in Tucson Targets Parenting,” seemed so off the mark. That column gave the impression parents need to be more alert to the “obvious signs” of impending violence and danger. It quoted a psychiatrist who said plenty of young men in her practice have violent thoughts, but “are getting help because their parents paid attention and pounced.”
From all news accounts so far, however, Loughner wasn’t just a sullen and reclusive young man who listened to heavy metal. All indications are that he was, as Krueger points out, intelligent and sweet and then became mentally ill. No doubt his parents, with whom he was living, were well aware of his deep disturbance. And like most parents in this situation, they were not equipped to deal with it. Who among us would be?
That’s a question Krueger obviously understands. Before the Tucson shootings, she probably already had in mind, from years of covering this community, the names of New Mexico parents who have been through the anguish of living with a friendly, intelligent child who develops mental illness, the kind that doesn’t manifest itself until young adulthood. I’m sure many of us know a family in this situation – it is that common. (Which leads to another question: Why is mental illness in young adulthood so endemic? What is the root cause?)
Instead of suggesting that perhaps Loughner’s parents were somehow to blame, Krueger recounted how local mother Debbi Wayne and her husband tried everything to save their daughter, mortgaging their home to pay for hospitalizations and medications. The Waynes’ daughter, Krueger wrote, died Nov. 20, 2005, when she was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after she had barricaded herself behind a bedroom room with “a passel of knives.” She was 20.
Loughner is 22.
In her column, Krueger gets to the heart of the problem: lack of support for families and lack of adequate treatment for those who are suffering.
She provides the numbers:
An estimated one in five New Mexicans has a mental disorder, varying from mild to severe, but only 19 percent of the adults and 52 percent of children and adolescents with such disorders are receiving treatment, according to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis Project of 2002, the latest and most thorough analysis available in the state.
And she provides the reality of mental illness for families:
It’s not easy to control the care and involuntary commitment of an adult child in most states, including Arizona and New Mexico, because of the sovereignty afforded every adult, no matter how mentally impaired.
Patient confidentiality laws preclude parents and other family members from accessing information or having a say about their loved one’s mental health treatment.
“I know that if you’re in New Mexico and you have a mentally ill kid who’s an adult, good luck,” Wayne says. “We went to court numerous times begging the judge, begging the psychiatrist to help us and it didn’t happen.”
Add to that the lack of enough mental health care providers and facilities, the lack of societal understanding of the mentally ill, and Wayne warns that those dark days, like the one in Tucson, at Fort Hood, at Virginia Tech — and in Albuquerque, where five people were slain in a single day in 2005 by a man with schizophrenia and a gun — will continue.
Instead of insinuating parental inadequacy is part of the equation – wrongfully assigning blame – Krueger’s column brings us back to the issue at hand, reminding us that despite a genuine need, our society is lacking in mental health care, lacking in support for families and parents, and we’re seeing the tragic results.