Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown

Hearing of any killing spree on the television news is scary but when it happens in a place that you know and to people with one degree of separation it's another thing entirely.

We moved from Connecticut last year. Where I used to live was next door to Newtown. Newtown is where I grocery shopped. Newtown is where one of our homeschool co-ops is. Newtown is where some of my friends live.

The alleged murderer killed his mother in the house next door to a family we know who we got to know through homeschooling. Twice a week for months we were next door while my husband co-coached a homeschool First Lego League team. We often don't know what goes on behind closed doors. The street where the alleged murderer lived was a lovely quiet neighborhood of newer large homes, not unlike the street I used to live on. Just as with my own street, one just like that one, rarely are people seen out in their yard. I never saw those people when I was at my friend's house. People are either indoors or they are out away from home, people don't hang out in their front yards much in Fairfield County, due to busy-ness, the heat and humidity, the mosquitoes, the deer ticks, or the cold winter weather.

It has been reported in the media that the alleged murderer was removed from public school in grade ten and was homeschooled. I was an active part of that local homeschool community and had never met them; their name was not on any family directory lists for multiple groups I was a member of (I checked!).

One of the victims is the child of our friend's teacher. I don't know the family but the one degree of separation feels too close to home. And I can't help but wonder how my friend and her son feel about someone they know losing a child today, especially since they saw the mother and the child just the night before.

What they are saying on the news is correct when they say that Newtown is a quiet town filled with trees and rolling hills. Sandy Hook is a section of Newtown that is a blend of older homes with middle class people and where some woods and former farmland has been developed into neighborhoods of larger homes where upper middle class and wealthy people live. Many households are dual income families with college educated parents working white collar jobs. Like our family the families value education and enrich their children's lives with many extra-curricular activities. When a child has a medical problem or Autism or Asperger's the parents spend a lot of money and energy trying to get their children the best and correct treatment.

The problem here is not gun control, the problem is the challenge of living in a society with people who suffer from mental illness and other conditions such as Autism spectrum disorders. Our present system of having everyone living among society while being managed by prescription medications and maybe some talk therapy on a regular basis puts everyone at risk for various negative experiences (the family of the person included). The former system of institutionalization was "deinstutionalized" in the 1960s and 1970s. Our present system puts a strain on families whose lives sometimes revolve around caring for the person who fifty years ago would have been institutionalized for life.

Just down the road right in Newtown was a huge state mental institution (Fairfield Hills) which is now vacant. Some of the buildings are being razed and replaced with sports fields, since the town of Newtown purchased the campus after its closure. I am not saying that the old system of institutionalizing mental health patients for life was perfect or ideal but at some point our society needs to dialogue about this new system where everyone is to live integrated is working or failing.

Our mental healthcare system is in sad shape and it seems that no one wants to talk about it. The topic barely gets discussed after tragedies such as this and the recent Batman premiere night movie theatre murders. Instead all that politicians and the media's talking heads want to talk about is gun control.

Why can't people talk about the core issue?


My heart goes out to all the victims and their suffering families. This is a crying shame.

UPDATE 12/15/12: Read this article which tells about the alleged shooter and of his diagnoses. As I said before the main topic of discussion should be mental illness and DMDD.

Related topic: The APA recently voted to include a new psychiatric diagnosis into the next version of the DSM 5: DMDD. This is getting a lot of slams in the media, saying that DMDD is no more than a temper tantrum. Although this op ed piece in Psychology Today is against the DMDD diagnosis and worries of over-medication, it is more credible than other articles I could find on the topic.

Updated 12/31/12 with more facts.

1 comment:

Aya Katz said...

What you wrote here very much resonates with me.

Sometimes a problem that an individual has is too big for a family to solve alone or for society to solve through drugs and therapy -- and that is not being addressed anywhere today.