12 January 2011

Caring for Crazies

Dr. Helen provides an interesting take on the recent tragedy in Arizona:

In my mind, the bigger question is, "would it have done any good?" Time and time again, I have seen the mental health system fail for those who are ill and the families that need them. Psychiatrists hand people meds and don't monitor their patients and psychologists don't take the time to really assess the patient and take the time to do the grueling work it takes to get someone who is psychotic/and/or personality-disordered back to reality. It is hard time-consuming work.

Prior to the ‘50s, Loughner, and people like him, would have been locked up in a mental hospital, which means he would have been unlikely to commit this sort of terrible crime.  While locked up, he would likely have been mistreated.  Mental hospitals were horrible places to be, especially if you were actually suffering from a real mental disorder.  Abuse was rampant, and treatments were either ignored or counterproductive, for the most part.

While Lougher’s victims undoubtedly suffered pain, I agree with Dr. Helen in that it is difficult to say that the alternatives are better.  I know some will feel compelled to argue on utilitarian philosophical grounds, and you are certainly entitled to do so, but that sort of thinking can become very problematic.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that life is imperfect.  There is no way to prevent every tragedy.  Furthermore, creating permanent policy in response to what appears to be a rather unique occurrence is a very dangerous idea indeed.

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