Monday, November 15, 2010

Sometimes you Just Hang Your Head

Another news story has the press that causes me to involuntarily convulse. A 22 year old man has been found not criminally responsible for killing his mother back in 2008. She died because he stabbed her in the neck.

Let's get one thing straight; Mental disorders are unfair. They are sick, cruel, brutal problems that affect people indiscriminately and without remorse or reason. But I can just hear the chorus now, "He's getting off easy! He just pleaded insanity!". The very first commenter on the story quipped if being not criminally responsible  is "the buzz word and free pass for 2010/2011?". The general public does not really understand the horror of mental disorders, and this whole story is not going to help, even considering the fact that both the defense and the prosecutor pushed to have the man declared not criminally responsible.

First of all, he has schizophrenia AND he decided to take steps, whatever he believed they would achieve, that resulted in the death of his mother. These facts should remains separate. People too often associate mental disorders with being dangerous and it is true that if a mentally disabled person does become violent it is more difficult to reason with them since they are under impressions that are not under their or anyone's control, but since our definition of mental disorder includes "unable to be reasoned with" this leads us back to the same situation where I have to lock my doors fastidiously every night because I'm still thinking about the Russell Williams murders and he most certainly does not have a mental disorder (a few paraphilias, perhaps, but certainly no chemical disorders like schizophrenia).

The reason why he is not held criminally responsible, however, is because he believed, through whatever chain of reasoning he was privy to, that putting the glass in his mother's neck was like acupuncture and it would cure her of the desire, he believed she possessed, to kill him. He was acting under a faulty belief, much in the same way that children, animals, or people with fanatical religious devotion do. The difference being that these people can be taught what the consequences of their actions are, and so it is right to punish them, but in this young man's case there is a goblin in his head that is stealing that comprehension and so until we can fix that, punishment will serve no purpose. If we want our justice system to operate properly, we must be aware of the steps to take in order to ensure a full understanding of the violation and the discipline. I hate to make a crude comparison, but when training animals, you cannot just punish them without allowing them to know what they have done wrong or else it just embitters the animal.

The biggest lesson we can take from this is to ensure that people with previously identified mental disorders, he was known to be schizophrenic prior to the incident, get the help that they require, and that they continue to utilize the methods to maintain normalcy. Many people after being on their medications for a while believe they are cured, and so decide to stop taking them. But it is just as hard to identify the onset of mental disorders as it is hard to identify a relapse, especially if the individual is more scared of the diagnosis the second time around. I am willing to guarantee the grief this young man will feel once he becomes capable of understanding what has occurred at his hands will equal the grief of anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent crime.

The biggest obstacle we face to the successful enactment of these measures is that the man is now known to be a violent offender, yet he needs to be afforded proper medical treatment and care, putting our medical staff at risk and putting a strain on our already burdened mental health facilities, perhaps indefinitely. Also we need to start considering a better system to deal with repeat domestic violence calls; the police knew the domicile well because they had been there several times before to deal with domestic violence calls. There should be a point where the police are able to say "No more calls", and further measures are put in place. I hate to burden our social welfare system further, but perhaps counseling could have prevented this tragedy.   

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