By Relf Alison Star
Posted February 7, 2011 by the Disability Committee
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tampa, Tucson—mass murder is not new. But a sudden shift of attention onto the mentally ill brings to light the impact of budget cuts in mental health. This is not surprising in a top down, class-based society. The mentally ill are among the first populations to suffer program cuts in times of economic hardship because while we reward the rich with deep tax cuts, we condemn the poorest among us to unbelievably cruel budget cuts. While banks flaunt their back room deals, bonuses, and salaries, those who might have been treated lament their own demise.
Mental illness knows no class distinction. But while the ruling class can take care of their own, we seldom see their decline into madness. We see instead the Jared Loughners (the mentally ill man who gunned down Gabby Giffords on January ) of the world a who strike terror in our hearts. It is not a stretch to say that the government is culpable for extreme behavior acted out in mass violence. Mentally ill people are not violent by virtue of their illness. They are stigmatized by this label, though the percentage of those who are mentally ill who act out murder scenarios is no higher than the sane population. The differential is the amount or lack of government aid for mental health care. This new trickle down practice is Viagra from on high. It never reaches the most economically distressed.
Most of us identify with our jobs, whether we like them or not. But the mentally ill, once institutionalized, are forever identified by their illness. Unless someone knows a mentally ill person, that person is seen through the lens of the media and Hollywood. How many times have we seen asylum scenarios at Halloween? How many times have we dismissed someone who is suspected of having a mental illness? How many times have we been afraid of a person who has “come out of the closet” without ever having been violent? I have.
In one case a fellow socialist told me that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t “some nut out in Claremont” (I was). In another, a comrade told me about a woman at a pro-choice rally, “Don’t talk to her,” she said. “I think she’s crazy.” And a third told me that she and other comrades in her organization had discussed my disability behind my back and “decided” that I should be working—this without ever asking me what my disability was. Further, once a person is institutionalized it becomes easy for re-institutionalization as punishment by a mate or family member.
And who has asked what mental torment Loughner must have experienced before he turned his gun on innocents? We would be remiss to discount his feelings, since he is human. He is tormented by something most of us can’t imagine. But the fact that he committed murder is not the issue here; it is the reason he committed murder—untreated mental illness. After the Tucson massacre Loughner was in the news for a month. After that the news is no longer “hot.” The light dims proportionately with each dying day. So it is up to us to make sure that issues of mental health stay on the front page.
As socialists we should recognize the class distinctions that are evident by who merits treatment. In the first place, we should educate ourselves about mental illness and the State’s role in treatment or the absence of it. We should demand health care over medical insurance. We should demand an immediate stop to perks given to legislators and CEO’s as a money source and give those monies to mental health programs that have the ability to stop these events before they start. We should tax the corporations and the wealthy in order to pay for mental health care. We should demand mental health education along with health education in public education so that teachers and students can identify the symptoms of mental illness. We should all be concerned about the mentally ill: if the State can do it to us, they can do it to you.
Relf Star is a member of Los Angeles County Central Committee and the Disability Commiittee.