Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mentally ill need help from society

It must have dawned on me fairly early in my life that my older brother, Craig, wasn’t like everyone else.

First of all, he wielded a killer vocabulary that he could viciously unleash on anyone of any age and make them cry. In addition to using words as weapons, he employed them to manipulate others to do his bidding.

A brilliant kid, he was reading Plato’s “Republic” by the sixth grade and explaining it to his teacher and classmates. But he was also taping firecrackers to the backs of frogs and lizards to “scientifically” determine how far they could run or jump before being blown into red mist.

By junior high, he was experimenting with drugs, but he found his most consistent escape in alcohol, bingeing on weekends. He was probably an alcoholic by the time he graduated from high school.

He went on to move to Canada, get married, have two of the most wonderful children possible, and then lose them to his addiction. Neither of my nieces has heard from, or about, him in a number of years, and truth be known, that’s just the way they want it.

For my part, I haven’t seen or heard from him since he tried to strangle me six years ago while we attended our father’s hospice-guided death.

Here’s why I’m sharing this: Craig was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia about eight years ago — perhaps drug- and alcohol-induced or maybe caused by a defective gene in his genome.

He was a landed Canadian immigrant, which meant that he received virtually free health care for his affliction. And when he was on his meds, he was reasonable, if a bit blunted personality-wise. When he chose not to take his medication, he would sit in the dark, staring straight ahead, smoking, conjuring up spooks by connecting dots that only he could fathom.

It’s with this background that I can deeply empathize with all of the victims of alleged killer Andrew Wesley Downs. If it’s true that the 20-year-old suffers from schizophrenia — and his mug shot and alleged crimes certainly can fit within that spectrum — then his parents and sister have suffered a living hell if Downs chose not to take his meds. As are we all, I’m sickened by these homicides and deeply grieve for the family and friends of Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager.

We like to think we live in one of the happiest places on Earth, but when such senseless violence enters our lives, we need to do some collective soul searching as to just how happy our little piece of paradise really is.

No one wants to admit that a member of his or her family suffers from mental illness; there has been such a stigma attached to the condition. But we as a society have to do whatever we can to see that these unfortunates receive the help they need — if only for enlightened self-interest.

Reach Bill Morem at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.