WHAT MY 30-YEAR CAREER TAUGHT ME ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS

This Op-Ed, by yours truly, appeared in the November 17 issue of Florida Today.

It was another routine day as a homicide commander in Miami, where I often spent time visiting the Medical Examiner’s Office — aka the morgue — because that was the hub of forensic analysis in death cases.

One day, as I chatted with doctors performing autopsies, I looked to my left and saw a dead female child, about 11, lying on a steel tray, clad only in a toe-tag for identification. I looked twice, then gasped. Lori was my wife’s niece. I had visited her house often. She used her father’s .22 revolver to fire a bullet into her brain.

Lori was just a little girl who seemed normal, yet suffered with emotional anxieties and a lopsided temperament adults dismissed as simple childhood behavior. “Oh, she’ll grow out of it.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause for kids ages 15 to 24. More than 90 percent of children who commit suicide suffered with a severe mental disorder. Veterans commit suicide on average of 20 per day.

Mental illness is not limited to any one demographic group. I handled blacks, whites, Hispanics, females, males, old and young. In many cases, elderly folks simply wanted relief from the struggle of terminal illness. I recall elderly people embracing each other in the back seats of automobiles, with hoses fixed from tailpipe into window. Then, there are dementia disorders, severe depression and delusions.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 11 percent of adults live with schizophrenia. Of the 20 million adults with substance abuse disorders, at least half live with a co-occurring mental illness. In all, roughly 4 percent (or 10 million) experience serious mental illness that limits normal activities.

Social Solutions, a website that studies homelessness, estimates at least 564,700 people live homeless in any given day, half of whom are over the age of 50. At least 8 percent of homeless people are veterans. Mental illness ranges from mild to severe among the majority of these people, mostly ignored.

Discounting those motivated by Islamic terrorism, most senseless mass killings in America are the products of mental illness, to one extreme or another. Many had shown symptoms of mental disorders and/or had established documented records of psychosis, but managed to acquire guns and kill people anyway.

These include mass killers such as Devin Kelley in Sutherland Springs, Texas, 2017 (26 dead); Elliot Rodger, Santa Barbara, California, 2014, (six dead); Adam Lanza, Newtown Connecticut, 2012, (26 dead);  James Holmes, Aurora, Colo., movie theater, 2012 (12 dead); Jared Loughner, Tucson, Arizona, 2011 (6 dead plus one wounded congresswoman). The beat goes on.

Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech University is an example of ineffective laws regarding obvious psychosis. After years of demonstrating aberrant behavior, he was declared mentally ill by a special justice and ordered to seek outpatient treatment. He still managed to kill 32 people on campus in 2007.

Whether people are homeless, bullied kids, veterans with PTSD, drug dependent addicts or just psychotic people blending in with mainstream society, there is a vast netherworld spread throughout our nation where people who are in dire need of special attention are ignored until they commit a crime which lands them in prison, our modern-day substitute for mental health institutions. According to the American Psychological Association, over half of state prison inmates suffer from some mental disorders.

I saw thousands of disturbed people during a 30-year police career, which began in 1960 when our population was 190 million. Today our population is 326 million, nearly double. What of the next 50 years?

In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mental institutions cannot hold people against their will who were not convicted of a crime. That precipitated the emptying of 90 percent of the mental hospitals, from roughly 600,000 to 50,000 patients.

Today, we have a significant population of disturbed people that will continue to expand within the netherworld, mostly ignored, unless we find an effective way to address this problem.

12 Responses to WHAT MY 30-YEAR CAREER TAUGHT ME ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS

  1. Ron sadler November 18, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    As always, spot on Boss.

  2. Tom Robbins November 18, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

    Marshall, this a heartbreaking summary of mental illness and its evil effects upon society, from your experienced viewpoint. May I submit, that phamaceuticals prescribed to children with behaviorial issues and supposedly mentally ill people are a very large part of the problem, with most of these killers you mentioned (and many more), having a documented history of taking this or that drug during their lifetime, maybe even up to the point of snapping and murdering innocents. The Big Pharma drug companies’ main incentive for existing is BIG PROFITS, with little or no regard for the consequences stemming from their supposedly beneficial products. People put these chemicals in their bodies, and what do we expect to happen? Normal behaviour? Look at the rampant effects of all kinds of drug abuse, prescription or otherwise, and tell me what you see.

  3. Anonymous November 18, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

    Sadly Marshall, you’re 10X Bullseye with this! It
    should be required reading for 1st responders
    and elected officials! That 1975 court madate
    Is being sadly repeated in CA now, with early
    release of thousands of violent felons, rather
    than build more prisons or invest heavily in mental health care, to comply with court orders
    to reduce prison over crowding. Watch CA,
    for a major crime & mental health crsis soon!

  4. George Sigrist November 18, 2017 at 9:33 pm #

    Great article today in the paper. I agree completely. So much, too much is focused on weapons and not enough on mental illness….reasons why people snap…..Not to mention…..how do these individuals obtain weapons in the first place? Allowing criminals, felons, the mentally insane to purchase weapons is no different than allowing terrorists from no-fly lists and/or no-fly countries to enter our country. My question to federal, state, and local law enforcement, the retail environment, and society in general is why is this happening?! Are we that greedy in our retail outlets so that we neglect severe vetting and/or complete background checking in order to secure a sale? Are we lazy? Are we too politically correct? The answers are yes we are. “See something, say something?” When we do, we are considered racist or it is considered racial profiling….thusly, we have incidents such as San Bernadino and other tragedies. We have enough crazies living within our borders to deal with from a mental standpoint. We do not need outsiders trying to harm us.

    The partial problem is that we have too many bleeding heart, liberal judges in the judicial system who are allowing career criminals back onto our streets. We have, in this country, including in Brevard County, a corrupt prosecutorial process system more influenced by and interested in closing cases in order to appear adequate than they are protecting the innocent and incarcerating the actual felons. Our entire judicial system is in shambles, and, in fact, in some aspects of our society, and in some areas of our state and country, you have a better chance of getting a longer sentence for being in arrears regarding child support or alimony payments than you do for murdering or raping someone.

    If we have “see something, say something” policies, let us, as a society, as a law enforcement and/or political system, back up that policy. If I see something that appears to be terror oriented going on in my neighborhood, I am saying something…..call me racist, call me an Islamophobe….don’t care….if it saves lives, good. No more should we be complacent and/or ambivalent when it comes to safety.

    Back to mental illness: More should be done….we have too many PTSD people returning from battle….I am a military vet, and I know some who have returned home to loved ones embattled and bitter, even confused, scared. I knew of one person who, every time a door slammed, freaked out, and, in his mind, was back in the Iraqi desert. We have too many people being denied mental care due to budget cuts, etc. Stress levels in this country and in our society are at extremely high levels, and I hate to think about the fact that events such as in Las Vegas and that small church in Texas will keep occurring until something is done, and serious policies and programs are put into place….what was it…I believe it was Ben Franklin (or Thomas Jefferson) who said….”an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    It is time to get serious with these issues, or, again, as I said…..nothing will ever change. Sadly.

    Great stuff.

  5. Pete November 18, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    More and more, there seems to be a simplified and streamlined process to leap from an evil deed to an evil deed based on mental illness. This seems to be the media trend. No doubt there are people out there who are f&^%ed up who shouldn’t be allowed in society. Give back the tools which existed pre 1975. Fact is probably more often than not there is some mental disturbance. However, to label some of these (not for terrorism) mass shooters mentally ill, before all data is known, is to expedite to a forgone conclusion. Never liked such conclusions. Still there will be some who are. No matter; we need to identify and treat those who are predisposed in a way ensuring they are identified prior and can be redirected—-or just eliminate them from ever being a social threat. Said another way—can we find and treat those who are so part of the masses that are mentally ill? This seems to be one of the last frontiers of medicine. I suspect what we know today will continue to evolve and maybe 50 years in the future there will be treatments and meds we can’t begin to think of now. Contributing variables can be both environmental or genetic or a combination of both. Triggers or so far difficult to identify before the fact.

    I say examine character and trace it back through family (or lack thereof) and find the common denominators. The eroding values some people have today can be traced to one or two and now maybe even three generations back. Consider the eroding values in the US of A during the last three generations and you have the formula for violence and disengagement for the greater good. Just saying. Now having said as much—-should any such mass killer live, they should be treated just the same as any of those they victimized.

  6. Ron Fischer November 18, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

    I, and I suspect millions of others, was not aware of some of these facts and figures you have presented in this article Marshall. I have been very aware of the population explosion and the negative consequences associated to a general failure for immigrants to adequately assimilate into our culture.

    I was not aware that mental illness has been playing an increasingly influential role in the behavior of the American culture.

    So, what might the solutions be? Incarceration doesn’t sound like a viable process. Medication doesn’t sound workable either.

    We have a very scary situation evolving. Thanks for the heads up Marshall.

  7. Snake Hunter{s} November 18, 2017 at 11:35 pm #

    The single item you did not print, Marshall… is in the retail sales process, of deliberately

    creating an outrageous “gimme something-for-nothing attitude” among the many

    innocent consumers… could eventually lead the weak-brained victim into a deep

    depression… plus severe mental illness for the victims. Great ‘Food For Thought’,

    Marshall; Thank you.

    >>

    I recall this John F. Kennedy quote: “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…

    Ask What You Can Do For Your Country” – Sadly, those fine Democrats Are Gone…

    replaced by ‘progressive socialist’ types. Makes an old guy want to shed-a-tear.
    ___ ___

    Here’s A Few Goofy Examples:

    * 1. “SALE” and “FREE”, with “FACTORY DIRECT” and “50% and 60% Off “Sale”

    running third and fourth in ‘traffic creation gimmicks’ to get the “Mark” in the store…

    when it’s coupled with ‘bait & switch” cheap merchandise.

    * 2. We’ve all seen this pitch on T.V. where the slicker says “Buy One Designer Suit…

    Get Two Free”. And here’s another… It goes something like this: Check Out Our

    Rating at the ‘National Sleep Foundation’ ( Hah! This guy doesn’t say that any more )

    However, he still offers ‘His Pillow’ for a huge “over-mark”, then you’ll get One Free!

    Or is it….. ” Absolutely Free ” ? Guess who is paying for Multiple Ads on 4 Channels.

    >>

    These Pitchmen remind me of the “moderate imam”, (First name… Yahya) that was

    invited to Tennessee by two liberal-progressive ministers to preach “peace and love”,

    and how we infidels can hope to “build bridges to understanding”… with Islam.

    * *** Caveat Emptor…. Let The Buyers Beware ***
    ___ ___

  8. John Spiegel November 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    Marshall: You are absolutely correct, as a society we must be willing to identify and assist the mentally ill, but the reality is those folks are a powerless constituency without a representative. Money alone is what makes things – good or bad- happen. Even the endless stream of mass killings committed by the obviously deranged has virtually no impact on policy or action. But, perhaps by raising the alarm as you do in this piece, someone in a position to do something will act. Unlikely, but possible.

  9. Charlie Greene November 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm #

    I always look for your column in Florida Today and as usual it was well written and informative.

  10. Joan November 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you for this Op-Ed.
    The only question I had upon reading your piece is “11 percent of adults live with schizophrenia”.

    According to what I read from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is a “long-term medical illness, affecting about 1% of Americans”.
    I know schizophrenia is treatable with some degree of success. But for sure it is a devastating illness.

    What I (my passion) would like to happen is a drastic reduction in the number of gun injuries/deaths each year in the U.S. (know approximately 65% are suicides). We live in the most gun violent country in the industrialized world and the use of the 2nd Amendment to justify all the gun-nut groups that are prevalent boggles my mind. The 2nd Amendment was certainly never intended to spawn what has occurred during our history.

    I’ll not live long enough to enjoy any meaningful change in gun violence in the U.S.A….I fear.

  11. Snake Hunter{s} November 20, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Joan

    GUNS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM… MENTAL ILLNESS IS THE PROBLEM. – reb

    ___ ___

  12. Catherine George November 21, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

    Great column , Marshall. I vote you numero uno in Brevard , always contributing in one way or another to the good of the community with your writings, your musical contributions, your sponsorship progrom, and heavens knows, what else?
    enjoying Americaskan riightnow however, I don’t agree with everything in it.

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