To the Editor:
Once again devoted parents with resources are unable to save a mentally ill adult child from the legal system and a flawed mental health bureaucracy. Confidentiality precludes my sharing of similar narratives that I have encountered in my work, with tragic outcomes, often death on the street.
I am always struck by the persistence of archaic views about mental illness, the inappropriate routing and cycling of ill individuals to jails and the criminal justice system, and a fragmented mental health bureaucracy. These defeats obscure many victories as we help those with severe mental illness reclaim their lives.
We have the medications and psychological interventions if offered in knowledgeable, humanistic systems. But access is limited and a challenge to locate, benefits are often inadequate or nonexistent, and treatments are too often applied sporadically. Thus there are also wrenching failures.
The amazing outcomes we now can achieve with cancer and cardiac disease occur because these individuals are not burdened with stigma. Recent tragic outbursts of violence by individuals who are certainly disturbed and their glaring red flags missed confound the picture. These tragedies perpetuate faulty links between violence and psychiatric illnesses.
Despite our collective failures to alleviate suffering, Mr. Ornstein’s son, like many others who suffer severe mental illness, was blessed to have a loving family who never gave up and persisted against daunting odds.
SUE MATORIN, NEW YORK
The writer is a social worker.
To the Editor:
I am outraged that we drive those with serious illness into the streets. I am outraged that we blame the seriously ill for their sickness. I am outraged that we castigate their parents. We beat the drum through language, describing the sick as people with “mental problems,” or “troubled” or to blame for their own downward spirals. We stigmatize. We underfund. We wring our hands. We do nothing. Our cruelty knows no bounds.
Psychiatric illnesses are biological illnesses, just as cancers are. Just as any illness is. We do not throw our cancer victims into the street and watch them be carted off to jail. We do not tell people with kidney failure that they are on their own. I’ve fought to save two of my children from both their psychoses and incompetent care, and I thank Norman J. Ornstein for writing this accurate, enraged essay.
I’m enraged, too. Until you’ve been faced with the need to have your child involuntarily committed — endured the agony that leads to that choice, the terrible panic and fear — you cannot make any assessment of what another felt he or she had to do. I long for the day when we do better. I don’t think it’s coming anytime soon.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
The writer is the author of a memoir, “The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes: A Mother’s Story,” about her efforts to help her son.