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On Friday Sept. 13, the Redeye newspaper published an article entitled “Jail population rising: Police crackdown, closing of mental health facilities cited as causes.”  For months, citizens – including the mentally ill – voiced their concerns about the closing of mental health facilities and the subsequent lack of available care for the mentally ill.  All of us should be concerned about the mentally ill not receiving adequate medical care. 

In the latest incident in which a person went on a killing rampage – namely, Aaron Alexis killing 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, investigations revealed that perpetrator Alexis had talked about hearing voices, thinking he was being followed, etc.  He allegedly tried to get medical help.  According to one of his friends, Mr. Alexis was very angry and felt mistreated.  Sadly, it is often learned after massacres have occurred that the perpetrators had shown signs of mental illness, hostility or a sense of hopelessness.  Signs of mental distress in others as well as in ourselves should not be ignored.

Deciding that someone needs medical treatment for a mental disorder is not a simple matter, but making this decision seems to be taboo for some families, friends, cultural groups and employers.  A friend told me that a relative committed suicide after disclosing that voices told her to do so.  Relatives thought that just telling this person to ignore the voices would suffice.  It didn’t.

People often use unkind and politically incorrect labels for the mentally ill such as crazy, nuts, insane, kooky, kookoo, odd, different, strange, weird, etc.  These terms may convey a lack of sensitivity to the seriousness of a person’s mental state.  The inability or refusal to recognize signs of mental illness and thereby seek medical / psychiatric treatment presents a problem not only for the person experiencing the mental distress but also for those with whom the person interacts or encounters.  Professional advice is needed. 

Everyone suffering from a mental illness does not need to be confined to a mental facility, but closing mental facilities, housing mental patients in prisons and cutting funds for the mentally ill are signs of a society that chooses not to take care of those in need.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...