OPINION

Meghan`s Musings
12-17-2012 

Meghan Kellison
When Can We Have an Honest Discussion on Mental Illness and the Way it is Treated?  
 

With the recent heartbreaking event at Sandy Hook Elementary School shaking the people of this country to their core, both sides of the predominant political spectrum have succeeded in politicizing the deaths of the children. Whether pro-gun control or pro-second amendment, the emotions on both sides are running high and the debate is necessary, but perhaps too rushed. The fact is, twenty seven people are dead not because guns exist or there were too many gun laws, but because one man lacked the mental stability to restrain himself from committing such an atrocity.
 
           The shooting is a result of mental illness above all else, and it is this cause that we should pay close attention to. Why are we seeing more shootings by deranged, single men even as overall gun violence is on the decline? Why do these people share similar traits including isolation from society and unbalanced psyche? There is an article that is making the rounds that I recently read that brings up the problem of mental illness in relation to violence, and while I found it an interesting and even refreshing diversion from the gun debate I thought it lacked a coherent solution to dealing with the problems of mental illness. In the article “'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother': A Mom's Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America,” Lisa Long expresses empathy with the mother of the shooter Adam Lanza as she chronicles her struggle in raising a child with what is believed to be Asperger’s Syndrome who sometimes exhibits violent tendencies. Long does an excellent job of showing how difficult life can be living with a child who threatens her life, and the complexity it brings to a relationship that is one of unconditional love.
 
           My concern comes when reading through the long list of prescriptions for mind altering drugs her son has been on, and her frustration with their ineffectiveness and even the ineffectiveness of the doctors in diagnosing her son’s condition. This leads to another worthwhile discussion the country needs to have, with all the advances we have made medically, why are there more cases than ever before of people suffering from mental conditions and also why are the “solutions” as bad as the conditions? Drugs have failed at treating mental illness of all kinds, and have such damaging side effects that they often cause the problems they intend to treat. Homicidal and suicidal tendencies are two of the main side effects in psychotropic drugs, and having lived with four people who have had legitimate mental conditions I have personally seen the terrifying effects these drugs can have on people. Prescription medications are not only ineffective at treating conditions; they are often times significantly more damaging.
 
           How did we as a society get to this point, and are drugs really the best solution we can come up with to treat this problem? I think a paradigm shift is in order regarding the way we think about mental illness and the way we treat it. So many people could benefit if we can formulate a different approach to mental and physical health, and I think a good first step would be to realize the holistic nature and interconnectedness of the two. As science improves and we gain more knowledge, there is resurgence in viewing humans as beings with complex systems that rely on processes that can’t be cut, poisoned, or burned out once a part is seen as malfunctioning. Mental health is linked with physical health, and treating the symptoms of a condition without addressing the cause is partly why our healthcare system is so lacking and our people are so sick. Why do we avoid what is blatantly obvious---that as our waistlines increase, so does the incidence of mental disorders?
 
           Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and while correlation is not always causation, how can we hope to be mentally fit if we aren’t physically fit? I have seen first-hand how much someone who suffers from something as serious as schizophrenia can be significantly helped by given nutrient dense food, exercise, and ample sunlight along with the elimination of drugs and denatured food. After testing this on myself, and also seeing it benefit people I know, I can see a huge difference in how denatured food affects our mental processes. I have felt a tremendous difference in my mental and physical health after cutting out processed foods and switching to a diet high in healthy saturated fats, plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, adequate sunlight, and some supplements. More and more research is coming out linking mental and physical health, and more people are feeling the difference in their health when they make the change. I have been seeing more articles like this one “Hannah’s Story: 2 Years on GAPS Diet Reverses Autism” that show parents taking a more proactive role in their child’s diet. With diabetes rates and other diseases that normally affect older people at an all-time high limiting the lives of children, the effects of denatured, high sugar diets are apparent.
 
           Can a change in diet cure the darkest mental disorders? Absolutely not. Modern medicine has its place in treating a variety of physical problems. I am also not making the case that this or any tragedy could have been prevented by proper nutrition as life is never that simplistic, but I am saying that we need to re-focus our efforts on how we treat these illnesses. Drugs don’t work, but we can work together to find something that does, or at least is much, much better and far less damaging. My generation was the guinea pigs for psychotropic drugs and attention disorder drugs, and I believe we are seeing the fruits of this flawed approach manifest in these outbursts of extreme violence from people in my age range. We are also seeing another approach surface"one based on using the foods we were created to eat to treat the physical and mental problems we are developing as a result of malnutrition. Americans didn’t get sick physically or mentally overnight, and all of these health problems cannot be fixed with a pill.
 
Throughout history there have always been people who commit violent, irrational acts, and I want to be very clear that I am not trying to completely diagnose the “why” of this tragic situation, but I do see it as a symptom of a society that treats the causes of mental illness with mystery instead of logic and quick fixes instead of painstaking, long term efforts. I am optimistic that in every tragedy there is a lesson to be learned, and that working together to formulate real solutions to the issue of treating mental illness we can at the very least correct a broken approach and possibly even raise a less violence prone, healthier generation. We owe it to future generations to give them a better start especially those victims of mental illness and the victims of its effects. By opening and expanding the discussion we can start working on long term, meaningful solutions. My heart and prayers go out to those affected by the actions of an unstable man, and I sincerely hope the families find closure and peace in these troubling times.