Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Mental Illness And Civil Rights

Today was my Triduum Tuesday*. Adoration, morning Mass and then grouping with my Cursillo buddies. At Mass, I saw a lovely young woman, blond, in her 20s and slightly disheveled at the back of the church. She had an unrolled sleeping bag and a bottle of water. I sat near her, thinking I could help her out at the end of Mass with whatever I had in my wallet.

Halfway through Mass, she started causing a scene. I asked her what was wrong and she told me the woman in front of her was making fun of her. It was a middle-aged Hispanic woman who looked shocked and confused at the accusation. The girl took her stuff and left and the woman and I spoke. She told me she kept things in the car - snacks, water, information about homeless shelters - for people like this girl. Neither of us could figure out what was going on.

The girl came back in and loudly accused the woman of laughing at her. The girl then left and we could hear her shouting outside the church that she was going to kill the woman for laughing at her. She was clearly delusional. Schizophrenic, perhaps? You could hear her ranting all through the rest of Mass.

A friend and I walked the woman out of church to her car where she was again confronted by the disturbed girl. We kept them apart and the woman drove away. The girl continued to rant and I noticed her right arm was missing from the elbow on down.

There's not much an untrained citizen can do for such people. You pray for them and offer them assistance if they're sane, but in this case, all you could do is make sure she didn't get herself in trouble by hurting herself, something or someone.

I guess I don't understand how important cake is. It just seems to me like the top civil rights issue of the day isn't whether or not two grown men have access to the widest possible array of cakes. I'd suggest that mentally ill people living on the streets until they die is slightly higher on the scale of civil rights issues. Dittos for the 685,000 black babies lost to abortion this year and the 460,000 more born to unwed mothers.

Then again, I was never a big fan of cake.

Maybe it's because I don't have much of a sweet tooth.
* - My wife thinks it should be Trifecta Tuesday, but I prefer Triduum. I then quoted her this scene. "I made it, I can call it what I want!"


tim eisele said...

"There's not much an untrained citizen can do for such people."

I think you answered your own question, there. You don't have a big movement of regular people working on better ways of managing mental illness, because the average citizen like you or me doesn't really know what the best thing is to do. Should they be locked up in institutions against their will? That used to be done, and the reason the mentally ill are on the streets now is because that system lends itself to all kinds of abuse. But letting them wander unsupervised leads to the situation that you saw. Do we have them live in situations where they have some freedom of movement, but people are there to supervise them and help them as needed? That might be best, but that sort of thing is labor-intensive and crazily expensive (basically the same situation as a nursing home or assisted living, which costs around $200/day), so who's going to pay for it? Plus it only works if the mentally ill person is willing to cooperate, and a lot of mental illnesses pretty much by definition make the person paranoid and unwilling to cooperate. There really isn't a good rallying point here for the average citizen to get behind to help these people, and so most everyone tries not to think about it until a mentally ill person makes a scene. And then all the bystanders think, "Why isn't something done about this?"

And then realize that, other than calling the police [1], they have no idea what to do.

[1] Who don't have the authority to do much about it either other than arresting the person, and maybe putting them in jail for a couple of days for disturbing the peace. Plus, if the person is very difficult, bringing in the police introduces firearms and the odds go way up that somebody is going to get shot.

Foxfier said...

The horrifying thing is that there is a sizable, loud group that would insist that her being "free" to die horribly, probably after being abused, is her civil right.

And they'll fight you tooth and nail to make sure nobody actually does anything to help. Just do enabling support, or put her in jail when she hurt someone.