Cumberland Times-News

December 18, 2012

Change the way we deal with mental illness


Cumberland Times-News

— In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I feel it is time state and federal governments reevaluate mental health resources, facilities, and an understanding of mental illnesses in the school system.

While I was on MSN’s website, I found a story (http://now.msn.com/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-says-mom-of-mentally-ill-son) where a mother said her 13-year-old son had similar behaviors to the gunman, and how she is struggling to find evaluation facilities and proper solutions to aid him.

She said when she spoke with a social worker/crisis counselor, she was told that for her son to receive the help that he needs, he would have to commit a crime, then be committed to a prison, where the majority of the inmates are mentally ill, being as state ran facilities are for the most part, gone.

Sadly, from information my mother, who is a social worker in Allegany County gave to me, this is true.

During the Reagan years, mental health resources were serverely cut, and we have not worked hard enough to get those resources back up to par.

There is also a problem with mental illness in the school system. Many children nowadays have emotional disturbances, oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, depression, and even early signs of bipolar disorder.

As an adult who has ADHD with bipolar tendencies, I can honestly say the school systems have no clue what to do with children with these disorders.

When I was in high school and in middle school, I was placed in classes with children who were mildly mentally handicapped, all because I needed help in math and science and they didn’t know what to do with me.

I was taunted and teased by my peers, and even some of the teachers. I can recall a teacher saying to me in front of the whole class “Wow, Sarah, I’m glad you took your medicine today.”

It took a trip to Sheppard Pratt, a civil suit complaint and the help of an advocate to get me sent to the Jefferson School at Finan (a subsidiary of the therapeutic Jefferson School at Sheppard Pratt), where I finally got the help that I needed.

Granted, I was a nonviolent child, (with the exception of mood swings), I did go to a school that did deal with children of all ages with E.D.’s and in my opinion, we need to nip this in the bud, we need to give these kids a fighting chance to succeed, and not become the stigmas that society has placed on them.

Our prisons in the United States are overpopulated, and it is time for things to change, not only on the government and state level, but also on a personal level.

Just because people have mental illnesses, does not make them crazy, and it doesn’t make them any less competent to do everyday tasks. Parents need to educate themselves on mental health awareness and the signs of it.

If we all did our part to make children and adults with mental illness feel like an actual part of society, and not just another “lost cause,” it honestly could help.

Knowledge is power, and the more we educate ourselves and become aware of the warning signs, and schools actually start to cooperate, I think we can stop another tragedy like Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine from happening.

When is enough enough? When will people actually get it that it’s a presence of mental illness or emotional disturbance that drives people to do such horrific acts of violence?

Sarah J. Lahman

Frostburg