I have insomnia and I’m catching up on my Instapaper; I’ll post some of the more interesting things I’ve read. In this first essay, Mac McClelland tells the story of her cousin who, in the throes of schizophrenic delusion, brutally murdered his father. (If you’re not familiar with McClelland, here’s another excellent article by her).
This struck a nerve because I was once part of a wrenching family effort to get someone care in California in the midst of a severe mental health crisis. I know that stupid 5150 law all too well. Thankfully, he did not have schizophrenia and it did not end in tragedy. In fact, he has managed to repair his life. But still. The memory of those terrible weeks will be forever with us.
“You can call the police,” the deputy director of Sonoma County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), David France, said when I asked him what options are available to a parent whose adult child appears to be having a mental breakdown. “The police can activate resources,” like an emergency psych bed in a regular hospital, or transport and admission to a psychiatric hospital in a county that, unlike Sonoma, has one. But only if the police decide your child is a danger to himself or others can they arrest him with the right to hold him for three days—what in California is called a 5150, after the relevant section of state law. Otherwise you can be turned away for lack of space even if your loved one is willing to be admitted, or be left no good options if they’re not. Ninety-two percent of the patients in California’s state psych hospitals got there via the criminal-justice system.
And the fall out, after the murder:
“What the FUCK?” my Aunt Annette exclaimed around the one-year anniversary of her brother’s death. “HOUSTON, what the FUCK?” But, she told me, the fact that what Houston did was “so heinous” didn’t mean he wasn’t a victim, too. “There was no facility, no support. There was nowhere to take him; there was nothing to do but call the police.”
“There’s been no place to put my anger,” she said about losing Mark. “Because I love this child. I know how sick he is. I was there at his birth.” […]
Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey calls a crime like Houston’s “a predictable tragedy.” That’s what he has also called the Gabrielle Giffords shooting; he says the same thing about theVirginia Tech massacre, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and dozens of other recent homicides, some of them famous mass killings or subway platform shovings, but many of them less publicized. Ten percent of US homicides, he estimates based on an analysis of the relevant studies, are committed by the untreated severely mentally ill—like my schizophrenic cousin. And, he says: “I’m thinking that’s a conservative estimate.”
He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.
apsies: “The obituary by which all other obituaries should be judged. Read the entire thing. It’s worth it.”