The television, radio and the internet are never too far away from the people who are caught perpetrating violent acts. Among those responsible for violence, many suffer some form of mental illness or deficiency. Today is World Mental Health Day; this should be a day of understanding not just for those against whom we harbor resentments; but for those around us who suffer debilitating conditions. Today is a day to raise awareness for those who struggle to get help and those seeking to maintain mental balance.
Recently, the effects of untreated mental illness have been seen in Washington, both when the Navy Yard was savagely rampaged by a man who believed that his mind was being controlled; and just last week, a woman who also was reported to suffer from delusions, was shot and killed while fleeing from the Secret Service.
In the wake of a United States government shutdown and an already alarming dysfunction in the country’s mental health services, many Americans wonder what will be done to improve the laws and to ensure an individual’s right to mental health care.
Nearly one month ago, 34 year-old Aaron Alexis believed his mind was being controlled by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves. This delusion led him to walk into the Washington Naval Shipyard with a sawed-off Remington 870 shotgun and open fire. In his conspiracy-riddled mind, he was doing what he was influenced to do by these electromagnetic waves; by the end of his rampage, 12 people were dead and four others were injured. The final causality was Alexis, who was fatally wounded in a shootout with police officers.
Alexis has been described as someone who had violent outbursts and who was prone to hear voices; despite these facts, his security clearances were never stripped from him. The background checks on employees with US security clearances has become an issue of concern since this travesty occurred. At the time of the shooting, Aaron Alexis was employed by The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, officials said. It was thought that Alexis was being treated for his mental instabilities by the Veterans Administration. The Navy never declared him unfit. Aaron Alexis retained his job and his security clearance, even though he had several run-ins with law enforcement, including two shootings.
Miriam Carey, the 34 year-old woman who last week caused a temporary capitol shutdown, was also dealing with delusions, although in her case these may have been linked to post-partum depression. After running her car into a police barricade, Carey fled the scene, injuring a Secret Service agent with her car. The police chase ended with Carey being shot dead. No weapons were found in her car, only a black box filled with a check, her identification and a passport was discovered. Sources say Carey, the mother of an 18 month-old child, also in the car, had an unhealthy attachment to the White House and apparently believed that President Obama had been stalking her.
Carey, a dental hygienist, told authorities in December that she was a prophet, that President Obama would be placing Stamford, Connecticut under lockdown and that all the residents, including herself, were under electronic surveillance. She was not arrested or charged with a crime but Carey was taken for a mental-health evaluation. It is not clear what if any treatments were prescribed to her after the evaluation.
Today is World Mental Health Day and this country is on day ten of a government shutdown. On the cusp of a financial default, riding the coat-tails of two harrowing tragedies in Washington, is anything being done to ensure protection for American citizens? Mental health care has never reached the same status as physical health in the public’s awareness; but with the many challenges we face today, perhaps our focus should be shifted. Mental Health Day is a day of understanding; a day to try to help make changes in the current laws and to secure more health related rights. To prevent atrocities like these two in Washington, should be the order of the day; instead our government sits deadlocked trying to keep certain programs open and desperately trying to pay its bills before a catastrophic default on the national debt. Many members of the House of Representatives have tried unsuccessfully to defund, dismantle or repeal “Obamacare,” but the Affordable Care Act may be this country’s only hope to rectify our mental health problems.
Written by: Amy Magness Whatley