In my past life, I worked with severely mentally ill people. In my early 20’s, I supported my way through college working in a glorified boarding house for 40 women. The price of admission was a psychiatric hospitalization. I was given about an hour of orientation and left alone to be in charge. In my years at Mercer Inn, I hung out with psychotic, severely-depressed, bipolar, and the most severe kind of attachment-disordered folks. Looking back, I think that several of the "psychotic" clients were had DID, but that’s another story. A few months after my graduation from the UW School of Social Work, I got a job as director of a federally-funded day treatment program for "sexual minority" clients. This was back in the glory days (1981-82) of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society community mental health funding. Even Washington state, usually around 48th in per capita mental health funding, had some great programs for people with mental disorders.
We did a great job. We got people to stay on their meds and off alcohol and drugs. We let them know that being queer didn’t mean that they had to be crazy. We got the ones that weren’t totally psychotic into work programs and school programs. We kept the rest connected to the group, the agency, and the gay community. (It was possibly the first day treatment to have field trips to gay and lesbian bars, gay skating night, and Taxi Zum Klo, a lurid German gay movie.) We had three hospitalizations, no deaths, and one assault by a client in two years.
Working with this population, my interns and I were well aware of the state laws for involuntary commitment. The client had to be 1)gravely disabled to the point of not eating or hydrating or 2) acutely suicidal, with a plan and the means or 3) homicidal, with a plan and the means
In the second year of his reign, Ronald Reagan gutted the community mental health money. Our agency lost its funding for the day treatment. We had the clients write to our board, and to the president. It wasn’t enough. Our clients didn’t lose their program because they were gay. They lost it because they were poor, mentally ill, and disenfranchised. Within a year, two died, countless were hospitalized (way more expensive than our little day treatment), and three, that I know of, were involved in assaults. The streets of Seattle filled with mentally ill indigent people. They’ve been that way for 25 years, now.
You see where I’m going. The VT shooter was psychotic. There being nearly no public education about mental health, no one in his immigrant family and no one at his school had a clue about how to deal with him. The laws didn’t make it easy for him to be forced into help. The VT administration didn’t know what they could do. His room-mates, teachers, and fellow students, learned to back off and leave him alone. He stayed isolated, which made him more paranoid, which made him more isolated. The paranoia won. He and countless others, lost.
Imagine if some incarnation of our federal legislature took on mental health: Public education. Real community support for all levels of illness. An administrative policy that VT could require weekly counseling or other compliance for the student’s attendance. Enough funding for real community mental health. Collective/federal bargaining for cheaper medications. And while we’re there, all kinds of health care for all citizens. What would have happened this week with that kind of net spread to catch the potential psychotic shooters of this country?
Oh, I must be delusional, again. . . No one has taken this on since the mid-60’s.
If you share this delusion, or you don’t, feel free to comment.