A reader writes:
Galston’s article was refreshing. Anyone who has had close-up experience with extreme mental illness understands that there’s little you can do when your adult mentally-ill mother, father, sister, brother or spouse refuses treatment. And don’t even think about intervening with a friend or neighbor!
My sister’s life has been ruined by some combination of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and our family has been unable to do anything about it.
If she “presents well,” the doctors and lawyers tell us, no judge will commit her, even if she is hostile and obviously (to us) unstable. We have watched her buy thousands of dollars worth of diamonds and throw them away; drink herself sick and get in a car; ramble on, when she’s not belligerent, about her TV talking to her - and on and on. Her doctors say we are powerless, and even the police when we’ve reported her missing can’t do anything about it. Her right to be nuts and to destroy her own life, in spite of herself, wins.
In the awful Arizona shooting, we read about everyone knowing he was deranged and scary - the community college professors, neighbors, friends, and probably his parents - as if something could have been done, or should have been to stop it. But what? Unless that person makes an explicit threat against others, or against himself, there is no recourse.
While I agree with those who wrote to caution about institutionalizing people for mental illness, I am reminded of one of my dearest friends who suffered from bipolar disorder. She was a brilliant writer and one of the most engaging people I have ever known. Several years ago she was 51/50'd (California code for mental disorders) and, according to the law, was given a hearing after three days to determine if she was a threat to herself or others. While she was in the grip of a delusion about overthrowing the government of the Philippines, she was savvy enough to bring her published books to the hearing and the judge set her free.
Within several hours she sent out a fevered email to a long list of inappropriate people, many of whom replied when they recognized the symptoms of her disease. It destroyed her career - decades of establishing herself in her profession were wiped out with one click of the mouse, and for the next several years until she died she had to rely on Social Security and the help of her children for survival.
I understand the limitations and cost of a true evaluation of each individual situation. I don't know where the money will come from to reform these laws. But my friend could have been a self-sufficient, contributing member of society if that judge had simply ordered her to be institutionalized and medicated for a bit longer - perhaps no more than two or three weeks.