In addition to spurring talk about assault-weapon bans, the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary has generated discussion of mental illness and social isolation, a potentially volatile mix.
Judith Robinson, president of the Miami chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is haunted by the eyes of the young shooter in that photo published around the world.
Robinson has been confronting mental health issues since her son’s mental illness was misdiagnosed when he was 10. He is now in his 60s, and the struggle goes on. She lost a brother when a mentally ill woman in Eugene, Ore., discharged from the hospital while unstable, crashed into his car while driving the wrong way on Interstate 5.
Now in her third stint as NAMI president, she is a dynamo, fighting the good fight on behalf of compassionate treatment of the mentally ill (including better training for police officers), issuing position papers, teaching classes, demanding statistical analysis, drop-in centers for clients and affordable housing.
Here are some of her thoughts on the subject:
Q) I know you were horrified by Sandy Hook, but were you shocked?
A) Sadly, no. I know people who have done this — not 28 people dead, of course. But they have killed other people, family members, then themselves.
Q) Are we doing enough to deal with individuals in the throes of mental illness?
A) We are spending lots of money in the wrong ways, and we are not meeting the needs of the client.
Q) Is the Baker Act (allowing involuntary emergency commitment of individuals for 72 hours) an adequate mechanism?
A) You can’t do the Baker Act as we do it here, and in 72 hours get the client well enough to go out in the community and be well. When a client comes in and is manic and makes no sense at all, how can you think you are going to fix this in 72 hours? You’re not. What you are going to do is sedate him beyond belief, and then what?
Q) Talk about your personal experience with mental illness.
A) When my son got sick at 10 years of age, he went into a very deep depression. That was in 1962. A child of 10 years doesn’t go to bed and not get up for 10 days. I went all over looking for help for him. You know how long it took me? Five years. I fought and I fought and I fought and I finally got him into Jackson Memorial.
Q) Are you hopeful that things will get better?
A) I never lose hope. I recently moved my support group from Jackson South to Miami Baptist. Baptist never had a mental health unit, but they do take crises in the ER. And I found out they were not referring those patients to mental health facilities. So I used all my contacts and I finally got them to give me a room to move my support group to on the main campus in the medical arts building. It has been a tremendous success. I am now able to teach all of this in a nice environment.