Thursday, November 09, 2006

Crazy People

I know of no better way to celebrate this crushing defeat for Bushism - nor to emphasize how much more crushing that defeat should've been - than to take a look at the mental-health situation in what's left of New Orleans.

Because of the storm damage, only two of New Orleans' 11 hospitals are fully functioning. What's more, one of the closed facilities is the sprawling Charity Hospital, which police officers had relied on to drop off people at any hour.
With this facility closed, the police are locking the mentally ill in jail cells:
Without Charity Hospital, police can book a psychiatric suspect into Orleans Parish Prison. While it keeps someone who is potentially harmful to themselves or others off the street, it doesn't guarantee they'll get the proper treatment.
Society has a collective interest in making sure that the mentally ill have access to medications, and that professionals are available to help them with dosage and so forth. It's civilized, for one thing, and we do like to flatter ourselves that we're the standardbearers for civilization (even if we're not always sure what civilization is, beyond sparing ourselves the sight of distressing things with which we're secretly fascinated).

And even if you're the kind of smug, insular dingbat who thinks that because a little self-interest is healthy, a robotic fixation on it will make you well-nigh invulnerable, it's wise to realize that a psychotic who's been denied anti-psychotic meds can affect your life in very uncomfortable ways. (That said, the fact remains that the mentally ill are more likely to be murdered, or kill themselves, than to harm anyone else.)

Anyway, I don't think it'll shock anyone if I point out that the sort of people who insist that the mentally ill be held responsible for their actions tend to go very far out of their way to dodge responsibility for the results of their own disordered thinking. If a woman drowns her three children, she's a monster who must be punished. But the politicians whose so-called principles deny people like her medication and counseling remain respectable members of society no matter how many corpses can be piled at their feet.

(Photo by Dan Burkholder.)

1 comment:

Nanette said...

It sometimes seems that the mentally ill have been viewed with a compassionate eye (and effective, long-term treatment) for only a very brief time in Western society (I don't know about other societies). Although I remember reading the term "God's innocents" in books when I was young, I think those were referring to people who were mildly mentally deficient - not psychotics and schizophrenics and such. Who were, as far as I know, still warehoused although probably in better conditions than those described in the old British books.

Anyway, we seem to be abandoning them all over again - prisons all across the country appear to be filled with the mentally ill. That we are abandoning them in a city that has undergone such a devastating tragedy (thus, no doubt, exacerbating existing conditions and bringing new ones on) is just... unspeakable.

New Orleans, Katrina, all of that seems to be something that many just want to go away - although I doubt that few but the most hardened will forget the images from that time anytime soon. That it was more than a failure of politicians and government officials, that it was actually the failure of an entire nation, is not something that sits comfortably, so better to ignore it and assume the problems have been taken care of. The American Way, and all that.