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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Placing Blame for Mental Illness, Scranton Style

"I am not going to place blame, what will that accomplish? However, I do have to wonder why the family did not take action?"

- Anonymous Internet message board poster, on the death of a Scranton resident who suffered from mental health problems

Okay, I've been fighting the urge to comment further on this, but lines are being crossed here that shouldn't be crossed.

Now (as I've mentioned before) I have members of my family who currently suffer from mental health problems, ranging from mild to almost debilitating depression. I mention this not for want of sympathy or anything of the sort, but rather to note that I've seem the family side of mental illness - similar to that of the family of the Scranton resident shot by the police - all be it without the tragic ending. Yes, I've even had experience in my family with a "302 call", and I'll say that the officer in question (a Scranton police officer) handled the situation with incredible tact, compassion, professionalism and understanding.

In other words, I know what I'm taking about.

That out of the way, the family of the recent shooting victim is in no way, shape or form to blame for what tragically happened to this individual. Even in the midst of severe depression, an individual is accountable for their own actions. Does suffering from severe depression cloud some one's judgment? It surely does, but they are accountable never the less, up until such time as they are deemed to be incapable of handling their own affairs. We want to believe that there exists these clear lines between health and illness, sanity and insanity, but in my experience no such clear lines exist. It's the complexity of these issues that make them so difficult to deal with at times, that and the frustration of seeing what needs to be done on your end, but not being able to get that individual to see it on theirs. That's a frustration I live with each and every day of my life.

Blame the family? That's a nice little piece of blamestorming, but it denies the complexity of the problems at hand. That's a case of looking for a scapegoat. That's a cop-out from facing the reality that we don't do a very good job in this country of facing issues of mental health in and then dealing with them. In this case it is entirely possible that there is some responsibility to be born by the Scranton Police Department (SPD) for the actions they took; I'll look for the report by the State Police to help determine that. However, even if the SPD is to be held responsible for the tragic death, we can't forget that there were choices made by the victim in question that are part of the equation. We sometimes don't want to face this, but sometimes bad things happen because we make bad choices, and that's not unique to mental health problems. Yes, this is all difficult to swallow, it's dirty, it's something we don't want to face, but it's reality.

A family can sympathize, a family can support, a family can suggest, but in the end the family can't live for the person that suffers from mental health problems.

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