Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mental Illness

Three different cases, three tragic outcomes. All of them dealing with some form of mental illness, disease or pathology that affects normal emotional and behavioural responses.

Right now the city mourns the tragic results of what appears to be postpartum depression. We still don't know the details but the outcome has been three people, two of them very young children, are dead.

It is interesting to note the sympathy for the young mother and the vigils held on her behalf. This has not been the case for every incident of mental illness and tragic outcome.

Universally, there has been an outpouring of grief for the victims of violent episodes of mental illness. This is not surprising considering the awfulness of what often happens. Consider the deep sorrow for two young children gone, a young man in a bus travelling home and a frail older man with Alzheimer's.

I don't even think I need to detail the incidents. We all seem to know them. They are sad, they are tragic and they are all deeply pressed into our souls.

Had the young mother lived, our reactions might have been tempered with questions of why. And maybe anger and recriminations. Hard to say.

We have seen a variety of emotions in regards to the bus incident. Even the federal government has felt compelled to interject on what the courts have decided is a health issue.

The victims of violence due to mental illness often want justice. However, it is hard to seek justice from a man with Alzheimer's who is not aware at all of his surroundings.

We want to feel safety from violence and that is understandable but a man placed in the Remand Center thinking he's at a hotel confused and scared  doesn't seem right. And cries for for him to go to trial seemed excessive.

Likewise with the bus incident, many people feel it is justice denied that mental illness was an excuse.

The courts have said time and time again they they have felt that they see to many mental illness related cases and that we need a mental health court to deal with special circumstances. One wonders what might have happened if the young mother in question had lived. Would criminal charged have been laid. Would she have gone to court?

Mental illness is not an excuse. We could all face some issues with cognitive and emotional mental capacity as we age. I assume we all hope for sympathy, understanding and care.

It is hard to tell a family with a loved one not to feel upset by their violent loss. They are mourning, trying to process the tragedy and wanting answers. It isn't easy and never will be. And the answers just might be not coming since the nature of the illness that manifested the violence seems foreign to those who can't know the mind it came from.

Our response to mental illness is still evolving. I'm not sure we have full accepted that criminally not responsible is a reason not an excuse for not going ahead with charges. Having said that, we want to feel safe and the government has to push ahead with far better treatment for mentally ill people. We need to feel safety so identifying issues is always going to be helpful in this regard.

I think that the one thing we have learned this week is that our sympathies for one person with mental illness and a tragic outcome were far different from the two other incidents. Wonder why that is.


YWGger said...

If a woman had beheaded a guy on a bus, and if a man had drowned his babies, I have no doubt that the reactions would be that most people would pray and sob for her and largely be understanding given her mental illness.. and the man would be Public Enemy #1. The assailant's sex has much to do with what drives public reaction.

PLP said...

Hey John,

Just to be clear. Manitoba's had a mental-health court for more than a year now. In terms of the Gibson case, I don't know if such a court [as it exists today] would deal with the matter, as she wasn't suffering from an Axis-1 clinical diagnosis [that I'm aware of] and any charges resulting from the death of the children would have barred her from participating in that court in any event given their likely nature.

Here's a much better description of what the mental health court does. http://www.manitobacourts.mb.ca/pr/mental_health_court.html

James Turner