Let me start by saying this: writing is the great refuge of introverts. As Kafka wrote once, “Writing is utter solitude,” and its exercise is a great comfort for people like me who are happiest in front of a plain white screen than in front of a room full of people. Writing is also where I’m bravest, and while I normally reserve political commentary (choosing instead to discuss only matters of the heart), I will today share with you a little bit of my current righteous indignation related to an op-ed piece that recently appeared in the New York Times.
Ellen Richardson, a Canadian woman was recently denied entry to the United States because she had been hospitalized for depression in 2012. Before her entry, she was required to obtain medical clearance from one of three doctors approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Her reason for visiting? She was on her way to New York, where she had intended to board a cruise to the Caribbean. Border authorities quoted a portion of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows patrols to block people from visiting the United States if they have a physical or mental disorder that threatens anyone’s “property, safety or welfare.” Find the Act’s full text here.
How her medical diagnosis was retrieved by authorities remains questionable. A long-ago 911 call to police based on a suicide attempt in 2001 may have set off the investigation. However the final version of the federal health care stimulus bill negotiated by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate includes a provision creating a federal database that will hold the personal medical records of every American. If the database isn’t already in place, it soon will be.
The fact that Ms. Richardson’s depression diagnosis was relevant at all to her passage through this country is what raises the hair on the back of my neck.
Here is the unbalanced truth about the mentally ill in the United States: state standards for institutionalization of the mentally ill remain inappropriately geared toward personal liberty unless the mentally ill individual is essentially holding a gun to someone’s head at the time of commitment. That leaves many who are in desperate need of care on the street, or in a potentially explosive situation. Adam Lanza was the perfect candidate for institutionalization, but the ACLU was instrumental in recently ensuring that Connecticut’s SB452 bill for “assisted outpatient treatment” was defeated before it could help him. (See http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/12/16/Recently-Defeated-Connecticut-Mental-Health-Bill-May-Have-Stopped-Friday-s-Shooter.) This treatment may have led to his institutionalization, and ultimately, the prevention of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies.
The same country failing to adequately treat the mentally ill is also blocking them at the border through articulation of the same standard, and according to the whims of the customs officers who happen to be perusing medical records that day. So apparently we won’t institutionalize the mentally ill because of their right to privacy, but we’ll fail to admit them to the U.S. by invading that very same privacy right?
Even when a state’s involuntary commitment laws appear in theory to protect those most at risk, they don’t always do their job. Take the recent attack on Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds by his son who – after stabbing his father – went on to kill himself. While institutionalized under an emergency protective order the previous day, he was released due to a lack of beds in the psychiatric hospital. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/11/21/virginia-looking-into-treatment-creigh-deeds-son-before-stabbing-attack/
Our mentally ill are not only stigmatized – injury enough, I believe – but they are the victims of a great hypocrisy: they are not enough of a concern for proper medical treatment, but are apparently enough of a threat to be turned away at the borders.
Pray for our leaders. Because frankly, our mental health system is – to quote those YouTube, Twittering millennials – an utter and #epicfail.