Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 354- Lunacy

Dear Mr. President,

On my way to work this morning I read a New York Times report on an increase in serious mental illnesses on college campuses and corresponding budget cuts which limit the amount of help students can receive. While my own college experience certainly corroborates this, at least anecdotally, my thoughts went first to a mentally ill man we'd recently caught shoplifting at work. When my coworkers and I stopped him he seemed docile enough (if completely delusional) but once in custody he apparently became quite agitated and made threats against the lives of the arresting officers. A man with a similar illness recently committed a murder in my neighborhood, and so the idea of this shoplifter being released worries me for the safety of those who might cross his path once he's released.

There is an old police superstition about the increase in crime and craziness around the full moon. I've heard it from my parents, from other cops, and from the family of law enforcement. I don't know if I believe this. There is a certain amount of mystery to law enforcement I suppose; there have been times when just looking at a person has told me that they're going to steal. I know my coworkers have experienced this, too. I like to think our brains are perceiving something-the aggressive gait, or the furtive looks- that our conscious minds can't identify. But, absent proof of this, I have to at least consider the possibility that maybe there is some small supernatural aspect to understanding when people are ill-intentioned or dangerous. Maybe the full moon means something. (If so, tonight's lunar eclipse is going to make the whole city nuts.)

I don't think that crazy people can be dismissed as solely a celestial phenomena. Our city (and our state, and our country) need to do more to treat the mentally ill-both to ensure public safety and to help individuals function in society. That this area seems to be the quickest to be cut during budget battles is unsettling. Reading this article about the struggle to keep students in crisis alive, I couldn't help but wonder what could possibly be more important than treating those who pose a risk to themselves or others. As I talk to my peers and appreciate how many of us are frustrated at living life constantly struggling just to get by, I can't help but sympathize with those seriously ill I encounter who aren't even doing that well. Because if it's the economy or stress or the full moon, if it's college kids or homeless schizophrenic shoplifters, we all have an interest in understanding, treating and minimizing the harm of mental illness.

Respectfully yours,


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