November 29, 2019-
I read, a few days ago, about a homeless man in the Phoenix area, who had committed a heinous crime, whilst suffering psychiatric illness. The story stated that this man had been passed through the Arizona mental health system, for over a decade. He had enough of an understanding of his own condition to ask for a shower and a follow-up appointment with one of the original counselors who had first met with him, when he was brought into a facility, by the police. These requests were denied, according to the newspaper account, and he was back on the street, largely against his wishes.
In Maricopa County, there are at least a dozen agencies, which purport to address mental health issues. I once worked, briefly, for the agency that, also briefly, worked with the man in question. I was not successful in my endeavours with that agency, partly because of my also serving as Penny’s caretaker and partly because the ego feathers of the agency branch’s leadership were ruffled by my personality and manner of talking with my clients. The agency, in the case cited above, was one of several which dealt with that man, and somehow they all dropped the ball, not knowing of each others’ presence in his life. He remains a person whose only security comes when he is incarcerated.
I mention this, because in dealing with the mentally ill, each of us finds self in a bind, of sorts. When someone dear to me faced a severe mental illness, many years ago, I chose to address the matter head-on, but not address it alone. There was a team of professionals, who helped solve many of the problems and it was left to me and others close to this person, to resolve the rest. We were, however, not left alone and the person has gone on to lead a masterful life.
I have had a few people present their issues to me, over the years, both in Phoenix and here in Prescott. Two of these people stayed with my family and me, during the last two years of Penny’s life. We were able to help one of them orient his life, but the other was a work in progress, when I moved to Prescott. At that time, my own grief was still raw and I was the one who needed compassion.
Time passed, I was able to help one homeless man get situated and centered, albeit with some difficulty. Once he trusted in the agencies with whom I put him in contact, things went better. The second person I tried to help, at the behest of a mutual friend, turned out to be someone who had already tried all the resources I recommended, and was irritated by my personality and foibles, to the point where we are no longer in contact.
The beat goes on, and I am open to those who have difficulties, who don’t know to whom else to turn. I will maintain, to anyone who is suffering mental or emotional health difficulties, to not rely on social media for resolution, nor to rely on any one person for same. I am a loving soul, but I am also far from perfect and the last thing I want is for my own lifestyle, activity level or personal mental state (mild Asperger’s/autism) to waylay the progress of a person whose viewpoint, regarding that progress, is at variance with how I see things. I had a brief online conversation, this evening, with such a person. Besides, each of us is marvelous complex.
That individual is right about something, though. Mental illness is anything but a laughing matter. You will not find me including someone else’s affliction as a punchline, in my repertoire of jokes. He’s also right about people paying attention to his problems. That attention, first and foremost, needs to start with family and one, committed team of professionals, of the individual’s choosing, in consultation with family. Random people, no matter how compassionate they are, can’t direct a suffering soul towards the light, in the way that family can.
The voices of the suffering will not be silenced and they will not “go quietly into that good night.”