If I’d only known

Like most Americans, I’m saddened by the tragedy in Arizona this past weekend. I’m praying for families who have lost a loved one, and for those who are injured and healing. Also, I’m specifically praying for the parents of the shooter, Jared Loughner.

My husband and I heard the news about the shooting later than most because weekends are a news-free zone. After reading some of the details, I told my husband, “This is a young man with schizophrenia.” I was later proven correct.

After these kind of events, there is an inevitable questions, “What about the parents?” or “Why didn’t the parents do something?” If the Loughners’ experience is the same as mine, they did try. Let me tell you about what happened in our family.

Our son was in his early teens when his behavior began to change. We sought help from our pastor, a child psychologists, and psychiatrist. Brains scans were done, along with complete physicals. We were told everything from we were bad parents to he was just a bad kid. Professionals told us that he had a brain anomaly or maybe mild seizures. But no one–NO ONE–mentioned a serious mental illness.

When our son turned eighteen, we could no longer compel him to doctors or therapy. Even though he was still living in our home and still on our medical insurance, we had no input. I couldn’t even call to find out when his therapy appointments were. It wasn’t until he attempted suicide when he was twenty that a diagnosis, a name for the bizarre behavior, was given. After his 72-hour hold at a psychiatric facility, he was released with a note to seek professional help. Period. End of story.

From the scant news reports it appears that Mr. and Mrs. Loughner were in the same situation. They were told of their son’s problems but were helpless to do anything about it. They may be saying, “If only we had known when he was a minor. If only we could have gotten him the treatment he so desperately needed.”

Burdensome medical health privacy laws prevent parents from helping their adult child get the treatment they need. Even though the college informed Mr. and Mrs. Loughner of their son’s problems, they could do nothing without his cooperation. Arizona, like other states, does have a law that allows the court to declare a person mentally incompetent, but winding through the system can take months. Law enforcement’s hands are tied unless the person proves to be a danger to self or others. Often by the time the danger is exhibited, it is too late.

Jared Loughner’s parents are devastated and hurting. Hurting every bit as much as those who lost a loved one. The Loughners have lost their son to a grave brain illness. He may never again be the little boy they raised. Blaming them serves no useful purpose. Changing the system might.

I don’t have any easy answers. It would be helpful if parents, or other close family members, had a fast track to the courts when their loved is in desperate need of help. Mental health professionals should be allowed to accept assistance from family members to provide necessary treatment.

Do you have any suggestions?

CBS News – parents “hurting real bad”

USA Today – parents devastated

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