"The one real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions." -- Bishop Creighton
I've been following two news stories lately that seem to be provoking more questions than answers.
PBS' Frontline is running a two-part special this week about the young man in Newtown CT who stole his mother's guns, shot her dead, and proceeded to slaughter a Kindergarten class. The reporters spoke to school officials, friends, and members of the community in an effort to deconstruct his life and figure out why he did what he did.
As a child he had been diagnosed with Asperger's, and those who have children with the condition know that they don't handle changes well. And yet, his life was nothing but changes: his parents divorced, his mother had shuffled him around various schools attempting to find the best "educational fit" for him, and more recently she was talking about selling their house and moving. She also made a huge mistake in taking her son to gun ranges and teaching him how to shoot, in the belief that it would help them bond if they did something they both enjoyed. But the biggest question, what made the young man snap and go on a killing spree, remains unanswered and probably always will be, because the two people who could give the clearest answer are dead.
The second story is about a young woman who hung herself while in prison, and died because the guards had been ordered to not intervene. After a relatively normal childhood she was diagnosed with ADHD and a host of other mental disorders, and during her teenage years she had been in juvenile court multiple times for various minor offences. However she didn't fare well in the correctional system (in less than a year she had been transferred 17 times) and developed the habit of harming herself. Eventually she became an expert at hiding pieces of cloth, shoelaces, even shards of glass - anything she could harm herself with - in her body cavities. She had attempted suicide so many times that orders came down to prison staff to not help her unless she stopped breathing, because to do otherwise only enabled her.
The big questions remain. Why was the girl behaving this way in the first place? Why was she so misunderstood by the people in authority and treated as an undesirable, instead of being given the treatment that she desperately needed? How could anyone order the prevention of life-saving procedures? (An inquest revealed that the guards who were assigned to the cell the day the girl died were allegedly being scapegoated by the system.)
Two shattered lives and unnecessary deaths. The root of these particular cases obviously is mental illness that was not addressed appropriately. Why, then, are resources not being made available? A comment from another documentary stuck in my mind: a young man with a rare genetic muscle degenerative disorder said, "So much money is being spent on treatment for people who don't take care of their own bodies, and there's not enough for people like me."
This taboo of mental illness needs to be broken.