This link is about the son of Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds, who suffered a mental illness and was unlucky enough to need long-term professional care in a country that really doesn’t care about the mentally ill. We’ll talk tomorrow about the creationism debate, but I saw this and really wanted to share it while it’s on my mind. I know we’ve talked here about right-wing toxic Christianity’s weird relationship with mental health, but this video brought home another aspect to that relationship–one of the worst and most dangerous aspects.
Not all mentally ill people are dangers–in fact the vast majority of those suffering mental disorders are not ever dangerous to anybody–but for some reason Americans don’t take mental illness very seriously, so some folks that might otherwise not ever be a problem become a huge problem. That’s the most frustrating thing about stories like these; they are so unnecessary, so preventable, and yet here we are still dealing with this stuff and being all shocked every time a new story comes through about someone who didn’t get help and did something terrible as a result.
You probably know I got a serious full-blown case of PTSD from what happened during the tail end of my deconversion. I ain’t ashamed of it. Lots of people have gotten PTSD from a variety of sources; it’s not an uncommon thing. I got the help I needed and learned how to manage it. I’ll probably have it the rest of my life to one extent or another, and I know how to deal with it. It’s a bit like herpes in that regard–it doesn’t have to be the end of the world; you just want to make sure any potential mates know about it, and if an outbreak happens, you’ll want to get yourself taken care of before you cause someone else an issue. But a lot depends on getting help for it. PTSD is like a cavity; if you deal with it quickly and thoroughly, you’ll be okay, but if you let it fester, it turns into an emotional root canal and then it’s way harder and more painful to deal with it.
As incompetent as my first doctors were, I was lucky. I got help. I got taken seriously. I got therapy. I got public assistance with the medications I needed but couldn’t afford. I had to make a lot of phone calls at one point, but persistence paid off. I don’t know how much harder or easier it is nowadays to find that aid. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s harder now than it was fifteen years ago.
When I was a Christian, there was a deep-seated distrust and disdain of psychology in general–I was actually in a psych program in college, so it was a little odd to hear preachers railing against the very profession I wanted, one day, to enter as a career. It was this weird cognitive dissonance. They also railed against “vain philosophy”–sorry, Dan Fincke and all the phil-major friends I had who were going to the Maranatha and SBC church near campus, also yes I know that’s not actually Biblical but that’s what they called it, but you were all in league with demons. They also distrusted pretty much anything women might do except education and music, both of which could be pursued part-time so they were kinda okay as long as the women involved didn’t get uppity and decide to pursue these things at the expense of having “families” (a dog-whistle term that always means “a square-jawed working Christian husband, stay-at-home fuckable-doormat wife, and numerous perfect godly children;” there is no other configuration of “family” that most right-wing Christians recognize even today). So don’t think they were singling psychology out. They lumped psychology in with this huge mass of “professions and careers that are distinctly dangerous to our worldview.”
And, too, there was the scandal going around at the time of freaked-out parents dragging their kids to psychology in-patient programs like the horrifying one at Spring Shadows Glen, which incarcerated children and tried to deprogram them. My friend Big Dave had been thrown into one such program–at SSG, no less–and had come out of it with a lot of horror stories about what had been done to him. All of us young people at my Pentecostal church knew about these horror stories and all of us feared our parents–who were not part of the church–might one day get so alarmed by us that they’d do something similar to us. Most of us tried hard to look “normal” around our families so that wouldn’t happen. We knew that if they decided to do something like that, there wasn’t a damned thing anybody could do about it. (I’m dismayed to see that nothing has changed except that these gulags aren’t quite as obvious as they used to be, and they’ve relocated to states where there’s way less regulation.)
People with a serious psychological problem teetered on a tightrope, then. On the one hand, we distrusted psychology enormously. On the other, we knew that sometimes people faced trouble so severe that praying didn’t seem to help a lot. And now the young people of my generation are of age and making laws, and we have apparently not forgotten that old distrust of the mental health profession.
I defy you to watch that video I linked up there and not start crying when you see what the mothers and fathers of these mentally-ill kids go through to find care for their children. The scars on that congressman’s face might fade in time–but the ones on his heart won’t. He did everything anybody’s supposed to do, fought for his kid like a lion, and in the end, couldn’t save his boy. I don’t even know what to say to that, except that I will be paying extra attention to mental health provisions in laws.
Republicans especially seem to have a “penny wise, pound foolish” attitude about money. Can we afford to care adequately for the mentally ill? They say we cannot. But then we have to deal with the fallout caused–which probably costs a lot more than finding that kid the help he needed when he needed it. We need to move away from “what does this cost right now?” and move toward “what will this cost in the future if we don’t deal with it now?” We need to stop thinking that the mentally ill should be able to man up, pray a lot, and handle stuff themselves–or push the care of them off onto their families, which just aren’t set up to provide the kind of help and care such illnesses need.
We’ve tried the “ignore it and hope it goes away” option. And millions of families can attest to how poorly that worked. Now maybe we should start looking at actual real solutions. It’s more than just stopping the mentally ill from becoming a danger to themselves or others. It’s so much more than that. We can–and should–be providing the care needed so that people with these disorders can move on from them and become functional, productive members of society without it ever hitting that crisis point. Creigh Deeds’ son might have become a famous musician one day, adding to our lives with art. Or to borrow a trope from forced-birthers, something they use to justify forcing women to endure violations of their bodies, he might have found a cure for cancer one day. We’ll never know now. A little bit of care when it was needed, a few thousand bucks of hospitalization and inpatient care, medications, interventions, real and dedicated help, and who knows where he’d be now? Anywhere but in the cold dark earth, I am betting. And that is not acceptable to me. It should not be acceptable to anybody.
In short, we have to stop denying the reality of mental illness and we have to stop forcing the mentally ill into situations where violence becomes way more possible. We have to stop treating it like way too many Christians treat it and start treating it like a compassionate, caring, loving society should treat it.