God vs. Mental Illness

Adam Lanza

Article by Meggie Pretorius
Twenty-seven people have paid the price for our country's mistakes.

As more and more details emerge about the Sandy Hook tragedy, I find myself finding it physically difficult to click on the articles. Everything I read affects me more and more, and sometimes I just don't know if I can handle it. As a parent, reading that your nightmare actually happened to someone else is about the worst thing you can read. But I make myself do it, because ignoring the news is exactly how this happened. We need to feel sad and we need to feel outraged. Any significant change in history was caused by a group of outraged citizens, and we owe it to the twenty-seven victims to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Twenty five- and six-year-olds died, and I cannot accept that it was for nothing.

Gun control debates have been a hot topic ever since the shooting. While some people complained these debates are happening too soon after the incident, I disagree. It is never too soon to try to prevent a similar thing from happening. Do you think another disturbed individual will avoid shooting up a school, mall, or movie theater because it is "too soon?" The NRA Facebook page has gone dark, and the Discovery Channel has cancelled a show about a family in the gun business called "American Guns." A California senator has vowed to introduce a bill banning assault rifles when Congress comes back in session.
Why would anyone want to hunt with an assault rifle or other automatic weapon?
Right now, everyone is talking about guns. While gun control has always and will always be a popular debate, it is at the forefront right now. I am not a gun person; they scare me, I have never even held one, and hunting disgusts me. That being said, guns are necessary for hunting, and while I am not a fan of it, I also don't want to a hit a deer every two feet when driving. Since we have killed off most of their natural predators, man is the only way to keep their population in check. So, while hunting isn't for me personally, I am not against it. But why would anyone want to hunt with an assault rifle or other automatic weapon? Doesn't it kind of take the challenge out of hunting? You might as well blow up part of a forest and then go in and grab the deer carcass. It doesn't seem to require a whole lot of skill, and seeing as very few people are hunting for necessity anymore, I don't see the need for assault weapons. I also think there should be background checks and waiting periods, but in this case, it wouldn't have made a difference. His mother's guns were the ones used, and his mother didn't have any sort of criminal record. So, while a ban on automatic weapons would've made a difference, I don't feel like the gun control argument is really as important as the media is making it in preventing another tragedy of this magnitude.

Another popular argument right now is that the massacre highlighted the need for God in public schools. I am Catholic, and I pray often. I went to Catholic schools all my life until college, and we prayed at the beginning of every period. I had my son baptized last month. I very much believe in God, and I find organized religion very useful (for me). But prayer- sanctioned by the school- does not belong in public schools. Children do not need to feel different because they are Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, Hindu, or any of the other countless religions out there. Trust me, they already have enough reasons to feel they are different. I heard from a friend that a local school put on a Christmas show and couldn't sing any Christmas songs with "God" or "Jesus" in it. It took everything I had to not be like "Well, if it is that important to you, why don't you send them to the local Christian school?" "Public" schools are for the "public," which consists of many different religions and beliefs- or none at all. Besides, what difference would it honestly have made that day if God was allowed in public schools? If those twenty-seven people prayed at the beginning of class, Adam Lanza still would've come in through that window and killed them. It's a sad reality. God and religion is surely important to many of the survivors in their time of mourning, and that is completely understandable and acceptable. That is what prayer vigils and memorial services are for. God in public schools won't cure mental illness, and if we are being honest with ourselves, Adam Lanza's mental illness is the main cause of what happened in Newtown that horrible day.

Details are scarce at this time, but it is accepted that Adam had issues with his mental health. His parent's divorce didn't help matters, but it didn't cause them. He was diagnosed with Asperger's (a form of autism) at a young age, and he had trouble fitting in. There are reports that he was extremely intelligent but troubled. Overall, though, he was pretty quiet and was able to fly under the radar. When asked about him, many classmates shrugged their shoulders and said he was "just a kid." This, of course, isn't true; he was fighting such terrible inner demons that he felt the need to end the lives of defenseless children and the heroic adults around them. Many people who knew Nancy (Adam's mother) are saying that she had been concerned lately because he had been acting different- she expressed that she felt she was "losing him." It seems a lot of people didn't know how bad Adam was, though. To which I have to say: Of course they didn't. Mental illness has a terrible stigma in society today. Many people see it as something they don't want to deal with, so they avoid it. Unfortunately, many parents and family members of those afflicted cannot just ignore it. Ask any parent with a child with violent tendencies and/or oppositional defiant disorder- they have likely exhausted many resources and spent countless dollars trying to "fix" their child. And just to make it clear, their child is not a monster- 95% of the time, their child is loving and intelligent, sweet and bright. But something- and many times it is hard to figure out what that something is- can set them off at any minute, and they can turn into a wild animal, kicking, biting, screaming, and hurling threats. Parents and siblings live in fear, wondering when this is going to happen next, and fearing what the child will do this time. Medications can help, but they can hurt too, especially when the person stops taking them. They also cause dangerous side effects. The makers of Zyprexa, a popular anti-psychotic, recently settled a class-action lawsuit because many patients who took it developed Type 1 diabetes, which will stay with them for life, regardless of weight lost, diet, or exercise. Therapy can also help, but it is expensive, and many insurance companies only cover so much. Sometimes, after an ordeal in which someone in the family is threatened or physically hurt, a family will research their options for hospitalization. Well, good luck with that- not only is it expensive, but lots of times, it is nonexistent. Cook County Jail currently holds the most mentally ill patients in Illinois today, and most parents are not willing to send their children to jail. So, they don't report it, because they think that jail isn't the best option- and it probably isn't. But budget cuts have to come from somewhere, and in an almost broke Illinois, the mental health care system was the area that took the hit. The results of this kind of change can be devastating, as we have seen with Sandy Hook. But most of the time, it is the patients themselves and their loved ones that suffer. But no one cares about that, because they can easily ignore it; they just care when the mentally ill infringe upon their personal lives.

On a day when teachers became the recognized heroes they have always been, it is important to remember that they themselves would've asked the children "What can you learn from this? Twenty children became angels, and I have to believe it wasn't for nothing.
Gun control or God doesn't cure mental illness.
We have to change the way we treat the mentally ill. Though it is much easier to look at Adam Lanza as some sort of monster, he was also a loved son, brother, grandson and friend. To his family, he was their baby boy. I'm going to say something unpopular. Adam Lanza isn't a monster. He is a person who lost his battle with a disease that is debilitating and hard to cure, especially with the resources available. But it isn't impossible, and we need to try harder. Gun control or God doesn't cure mental illness. Let’s focus on the root cause of this situation, instead of extraneous, distracting details. Let’s break down and simplify what we should take away from this tragedy: We need to face that we are failing the mentally ill, and we need to change the system. Sure, maybe we are only doing it because it crossed over and affected innocent children, but that doesn’t matter as long as something changes. I am not making excuses for Adam; that is not the point of this article. The point is to approach this tragedy with constructive efforts to make a change instead of just plain outrage followed by eventual indifference. It is easy to get mad and blow off Adam Lanza as some crazy guy. But one look at the shocked faces of those who knew him will tell you it wasn’t this simple. The system failed Adam Lanza, and twenty-seven people paid the price.

Some mental illness statistics:

  • One in four adults experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
  • One in ten children suffer from a serious mental health disorder.
  • 2.4 million Americans (1.1% of the adult population) suffer from schizophrenia.
  • 5.7 million Americans (2.6% of the adult population) have bipolar disorder.
  • 14.8 million Americans (6.7% of the adult population) suffer from major depressive disorder.
  • 5.2 million adults in America have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders (31% of those using homeless services suffer from this dual diagnosis).
  • One half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 (three quarters by age 24). Despite effective treatments, there is a long delay- often decades- between onset and when people seek treatment.
  • Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental illnesses receive treatment.
  • Over 50% of students with a mental disorder eventually drop out of high school- the highest percentage of any disability.
  • Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental disorder.
  • In the United States, the overall cost of mental illness is said to be $79 billion, with $63 billion of that being from loss productivity.

UPDATE - Reports have come out today that Adam suffered from a condition where he could feel no pain. He literally could not feel if he cut or hurt himself. I'm guessing this goes for emotional pain too, putting him at a huge risk to have sociopathic tendencies. There is treatment for this. The person has to be taught how to feel, which, while difficult, can be done with the correct therapy and a loving and understanding support system. Adam Lanza was born with this condition. It could have been your child born with it. Or it could have been you.

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