04.17.17 | Schizophrenia / A System Gone Mad

The lunch talk by Susan Klebold a few months back was probably the most affecting presentation our club has witnessed. Sue projected an almost Buddha-like serenity as she told her story.

Her story: sending her son off to school one morning. Good-bye, honey. See you tonight. There would be no tonight as her son, Dylan, along with his friend, Eric, a few hours later let loose the black bats at Columbine which resulted in not only their deaths but those of at least a dozen other students and a teacher.

John Donvan's review of "No One Cares About Crazy People," by Ron Powers (the title derived from a quote by Scott Walker's aide assessing the political influence of this particular contingent i.e. none) (https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-your-sons-are-schizophrenic-1490994144) reports on the author's view that few of us care about the challenges of mental illness until the emergency is inside our own home. But it's probably also a safe bet that, among each of our extended families or that of a friend, there lurks some sort of mental illness -- schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or acute depression.

The darkness can be cloaked in silence. The very phenomenon repels intrusion as if a fine mist of shame shields the private interior. The sufferer may refuse treatment. The parent is but a helpless witness to the child's descent. The ultimate tragedy occurs when the final articulation is suicide. Such was the case of the author's son.

Recriminations, often of one's own making, follow (e.g. Sue's, "A Mother's Reckoning"; also, by way of her TED talk). Was it nature or nurture? Were there any outward signs? (yes, there seemed to be in Dylan's case, but only "obvious" in retrospect)?

But, wait, compare that to the "real" diseases. It has been established that in the case of lung cancer, for instance, only a minority of the killer mutations are attributable to genes, environment or lifestyle, versus sixty percent a function of pure randomness. We might as well pray to the god of capriciousness when it comes to the diseases of the body. Maybe that same god is at work when it comes to the disease of the mind.

Per Melville, "Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may but become transfigured into a subtler form." The challenge of mental illness is, indeed, in our home, our home defined broadly defined as society. Let us reflect on Mr. Donvan's anger at what he sees as a mad system. The broad institutionalization of the past fails the civilization test. Yet, wholesale assimilation may be a form of punishment meted out to both the afflicted individual and society alike. Are we equipped to address Melville's "subtler form?"  

Steve SmithComment