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Yet again, we’re forced to wrap our brains around the unfathomable. How could this happen and who the hell could do something like this?
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and expert on mass killers, has noted that almost without exception, [mass murderers'] crimes represent the endpoint of a long and troubled highway that in hindsight was dotted with signs missed or misinterpreted. “These individuals do not snap,” he told the New York Times, “whatever that means.”
Adam Lanza, like most of the 62 mass murders in the United States between 1982 and 2012, were sick and in need of serious help. Let’s hope mental health care and mental illness sticks around in the public debate and continues to resonate. In the aftermath of last week’s horror, articles with a range of opinions, like this plus this and this in response, have raised awareness of the issues and spawned debate.
Can we begin to chip away at the stigma?
When I moved to Argentina last year, one of the first things I noticed was a general willingness to talk about mental health. Unlike in the U.S. (where I received psychological and psychiatric treatment years ago), it’s not taboo and it’s not expensive, and psychologists are everywhere. (In 2008, there were 145 per 100,000 people. Last year, that number was 196 per 100,000. That compares with about 27 psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association. Here is a NYT piece about this phenomenon.) It’s not uncommon for a casual acquaintance to mention his/her analyst or have to miss work or an event because of an appointment.
I mention Argentina not as a picture perfect model, but as an example of something different. Far different. I’m not a professional and I don’t claim to have the slightest idea how we handle seriously troubled and violent individuals. I don’t know that less stigma, and more care and research would take away the issue. And yes, we have come a long way since the days of locking mentally troubled individuals away and out of public sight. But I have read and experienced enough to know that, at the very least, it’s still not easy to talk about mental illness nor to access treatment in the U.S. in 2012.
In CNN today, associate professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carroll outlines the problem and encourages the U.S. to “get serious about mental health“:
We should be careful not to blame the mentally ill for all crimes. But we should also be prepared to accept that we might be able to prevent some tragedies if we did a better job of caring for them. I’ve seen mental health illness in children, and our system is ill-equipped to handle it. Studies show that more than 10% of children in the United States might benefit from some sort of mental health treatment. Most don’t get it. We often don’t have the research to tell us how best to care for these problems. Even when we do, we often lack the capacity. There is a shortage of resources and services available to serve children. Furthermore, even when those resources exist, a lack of coordination often prevents they’re being used effectively.
After hearing Adam Lanza described the way I remember hearing a lot of these killers described over the years, I did a little research, which confirmed the hunch. Here, below, a sample of media descriptions of the 10 mass murderers in the US in 2011 and 2012, in reverse chronological order by date of crime. These were found in major media, including the New York Times and AP.
Adam Lanza, 20: an enigma; intelligent and shy; left few footprints in life; nervous and fidgety; deeply uncomfortable in social situations. Brother, Ryan, had not seen him since 2010. Source.
Andrew Engeldinger, 36: introvert; struggled with mental illness for years and had shut parents out of his life for nearly two years before the attack. Family had a clinically diagnosed history of schizophrenia; competitive and intelligent; a high level of intelligence; no known friends. Source.
Wade Michael Page, 40: Ticking time bomb of rage; pretty calm, friendly; steeped in a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions. Discharged from the army for “patterns of misconduct” and ruled ineligible to re-enlist. Source.
James Holmes, 24: Suffered from dysphoric mania, a form of bipolar disorder that combines the frenetic energy of mania with the agitation, dark thoughts and in some cases paranoid delusions of major depression. An enigma; young man struggling with a severe mental illness who more than once hinted to others that he was losing his footing. Amiable if intensely shy; really smart. Source.
Ian Stawicki, 40: History dotted with failure, rejection, delusions, violence and a strong interest in guns. Erratic, argumentative and full of rage for years, but especially so recently; social rejection; episodes of apparent delusions; spasms of violence. Charming and paranoid; “a little off”; He slept with a gun under his pillow and was a skilled marksman. Source.
One L. Goh, 43: Life was on the skids; felt disrespected; a man struggling to deal with personal and family difficulties over the past 10 years; very quiet; had “anger management” issues. Source.
Jeong Soo Paek, 59: Jeong’s family was afraid of his violent tendencies; had threatened to commit suicide with his guns.
Scott Evans Dekraai, 42: Suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder; unstable and physically abusive; witnesses thought he was near the breaking point. Source.
Eduardo Sencion, 32: Convinced demons were after him; diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager; avoided intimate relationships because he feared “he would father a child and pass along his illness.” Gave his mother keys to his gun safe, warning her he was “getting sick.” Began hearing voices telling him to do “bad things” to people. Source.
Jared Loughner, 22: had been behaving increasingly erratically in recent months; had posted rambling videos online in which he made statements about mind control; mentally unstable. “He has kind of a troubled past, I can tell you that,” prone to outbursts in class, “floating through life” and “doing his own thing”. “If he tried, he would probably be at the top of our class. But he kind of just wasted his life.” Source.
There was a sweet little dog in my subway car the other morning. I noticed her from the platform before I got on. A yellow lab mix, maybe. She was furiously scratching her ear as I stepped onto the train and sat down in the seat directly across. I don’t think I’d ever seen a dog on the subway before.
As the train began to move, my gaze lifted to her owner, and I realized they were homeless. He wore an oversized black sweatshirt and black cotton sweatpants, full of holes. The skin on his face was very tan, and his hair was a wild, knotted mess. A foul smell suddenly filled the air. But it was his hands that I noticed most. They were caked with thick, greasy black dirt.
I tried to avert my eyes, but the smell seemed stronger and so I looked at the faces of the people around us, but they were unflinching and empty of reference.
Both the man and his dog appeared to be exhausted, and as the train moved faster, their eyelids grew drowsy almost in sync. But as the dog nodded off, the man fought his heavy eyes, following the dog’s movements and her breath, barely looking away from her. When the train lurched and the dog perked up, he stroked her ears and nudged her to lay back down and relax.
For some reason, I looked deeply at his face. He was handsome. Young. Younger than me. His eyes were dark, an almond shape. A mole on his forehead. A newspaper on his lap.
Where would they go? I wondered as they walked off the train. What would they do today?
My eyes fell back to my book. And then back to the other commuters. Were they so used to those dirty hands, often begging for a coin, that they felt nothing at all?
One stop later, my eyes followed a young woman walk towards the seat where the young man and his dog had sat. I imagined she’d just stepped out of a clean house. She wore white jeans and a gray and white striped shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, revealing soft pale skin and shiny stud earrings. She carried a black leather bag and chewed gum constantly and methodically. It might not have occurred to her to consider who’d sat in that seat before her, minutes or weeks or years earlier.
The subway is a baffling place to be. Where else besides an emergency room do such a disparate mix of people think and wait while saying so little?
Thanks for this, Mary Beth LaRue
Yesterday evening, I watched the sun set in a lovely riverside park outside of the city. The chill made it feel like winter again, and the sky was 10 shades of pink.
Nearby, three nine-ish year-old boys kicked a soccer ball with gleeful intensity. They ran and ran more, screaming playful insults to each other and calling for a pass, with bright red cheeks from the cold.
And then all of a sudden, heightened silence and a plop, as the ball flew by us and into the water 10 feet below.
Awww, pobres, I murmured, sad for the loss of their beloved ball.
They ran to the edge and looked down, mouths agape, cheers suddenly morphed into bewilderment. Tragic.
Without hesitation, the smallest one ran along the bank to where it sloped down to the water. He surely can’t think he’s going to rescue his ball, I thought. By all accounts the water was toxic. Bottles and all manner of flotsam rested on the surface. Plus, it was freezing, and getting dark. And it didn’t seem like anyone was really around to help us if something went wrong.
The other two boys stayed above, instructing the little one where to go, what teeny rock to step on and how not to fall into the sludge. I watched below, too, as the boy’s gaze suddenly became fixed on a large tree branch, about three-times as long as him. I was shocked as he leaned down to try to pick it up and hoist it over his shoulder.
I told my friend (a male) to tell them the water was filled with glass, and that they really shouldn’t try to get their ball. It’s ridiculous, he’s going to fall in, I said.
Use that stick, my friend instructed them instead, pointing to a flatter, shorter wood board. It’s lighter.
The wind picked up and the ball drifted farther out and nestled comfortably into a patch of grass, as if to mock these determined young boys. The little guy balanced on a small rock — surrounded by freezing, trash-filled water — and slowly and repeatedly paddled the wood board in the water, trying to lure the ball closer. It moved farther.
From above, his friends provided a running commentary, charting the ball’s movement and calling out jeers (endearingly).
I was a boy once too, you know, my friend laughed.
I realized I was once a fraidy-cat girl, who wouldn’t have gone for that ball. I probably would have thought those boys were stupid then too, or maybe really cool. I shut up.
And surely enough, after 10 minutes or so, a breeze brought the ball close enough for the little hero to pick up, still balancing on half a rock. We clapped and the fun continued.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An absolute masterpiece. I read the last 100 pages without pause — heartbroken. This is a story about the depths of human experience and the beautiful, tragic reality that there is so much we will never, ever know about those we love. I have a feeling I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.
Year. yeaR. Y.E.A.R. YYYYYEEEEAAAARRRR. yEaR. ɹɐǝʎ. year.
What’s in one?
Well for starters, there was joy-learning-striving-ideas-graduations-sorrow-bravery-confusion-freedom-guilt-pleasure-smiles-tears-laughs-love-so much love-betrayal-loss-sleep-sickness-decisions-leaps-meditations-friendship-sleeplessness-song-goodbyes-hellos-teachings-discovery-softness-relaxation-sweetness-yearning-creativity-growth-realization-reunions-responsibility-movement-confusion-loneliness-beauty-happiness-belief-dreams.
Here I am on the other side. Bigger, stronger and more me.
Bad things happen in our crazy world. But dreams can come true. Blessed you were to me 2011. Bring it on….
Tee hee. I found this among a collection of creative well-wishes given to me by the fourth grade students I co-taught in the fall of 2005. The occasion: me leaving to pursue an internship at a small newspaper.
Co-teaching had been my first job out of college, and a somewhat desperate attempt to make enough money to move out of my parents’ house and into the city. I left the school — and, grudgingly, those kids — after six months. Six years later, I’m still at it. Still trying, Silvi, with ardor and guts, to be a “successful writer,” whatever that means.
I was quite pleased to learn yesterday about a contest that honors horrible (fake) opening sentences for novels. The annual Bulwer-Lytton contest asks writers to send in their most miserable attempts at openings in a variety of categories, including “adventure,” “crime,” “sci-fi” and “sex in fiction.” You can view the winners here. (They’re hilarious!) I’m bummed I missed this year’s deadline, but I decided to begin practicing for next year’s contest. This was incredibly hard. Feedback on my terrible sentence? Practice makes perfect!
This one’s in the romance category:
That meaningless, bland date grew into the first adult love she’d experienced in 19 years, and Jenny was surprised by how much she wanted to share with Tim — her family’s twisted past, her grape jelly meatball recipe, and the crusty pink retainer she’d inserted into her mouth each night since fifth grade.
Now your turn. Show me terrible, people!!
Thank you for visiting jessicaleeweiss.com. After an enlightening few weeks learning about DNS name servers and the like, I’ve finally finished moving my website over to a WordPress platform. Phew! I’m excited that this new platform so prominently features a blog, and I will begin blogging more regularly — about my work and whereabouts, writing, world events and anything else that seems relevant and hopefully starts with a w. Please check out samples of my work over there –> and feel free to leave feedback anywhere throughout this site. Cheers!