Jared Loughner, Mental Illness and How Budget Cuts Have Slashed Behavioral Health Services in Arizona

Published on
by
Democracy Now!

Jared Loughner, Mental Illness and How Budget Cuts Have Slashed Behavioral Health Services in Arizona

by

AMY GOODMAN: While federal investigators and
the news media try to uncover the motivation behind the attack, the
picture emerging of Jared Loughner is of a severely disturbed
22-year-old who was behaving in an increasingly erratic manner. YouTube
videos and other internet postings under his name suggest an obsession
with bizarre anti-government grievances, including ramblings about
currency policies and language control through grammar. Acquaintances in
Arizona said Loughner had distanced himself from friends and family
members in recent years.

In September, he was suspended from Pima
County Community College after five run-ins with campus police for
disruptive behavior, being thrown out of class, students saying they
were afraid, professors saying that they were afraid of him. College
administrators told him he needed clearance from a mental health
professional saying he would not present a danger to himself or others
before he could return to classes. Pima County behavioral health
officials have no record of Loughner seeking treatment in the public
system overseen by the Arizona State Department of Health Services.

Saturday's
attack and Jared Loughner's apparent mental health problems have shone a
spotlight on issues surrounding mental health treatment in Arizona. The
state made drastic budget cuts to behavioral health services in 2010.
The unprecedented cuts slashed all support services for non-Medicaid
behavioral health patients and took away coverage for most name-brand
drugs. As many as 28,000 state residents were affected. Meanwhile,
Arizona is facing even bigger budget cuts this year and is facing an
estimated $1.4 billion deficit in 2012.

H. Clarke Romans is the
executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of
Southern Arizona. He's joining us from Tucson.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about your response to what has taken place.

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Well, our response so far has just been to point out that the
availability of services has diminished due to these budget cuts, and
although there's no direct link, it just makes it less likely that
people would be able to get services, even if they overcome the stigma
of admitting or acknowledging that they have these illnesses. It just
makes the availability of services even more difficult to obtain.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen now, H. Clarke Romans?

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Well, I think that the legislature has taken a simplistic approach to
solving the budget crisis, with respect to mental health services, at
least. What we're finding in the community is that the costs were not
really eliminated; they were just pushed down to less visible areas in
the community, and we're responding to the difficulties with the most
expensive form of services that the community has to offer to people.
That's emergency rooms, hospitalization, law enforcement intervention.
So, the communities are spending the money, even though it appears that
the lawmakers believe that they have actually cut the budget and saved
money. It's just coming out of a different pocket down at the community
level. And I think that we need to acknowledge that it ultimately is
less expensive in the community to offer necessary services. And this is
all without respect to the devastating impact this has had on people's
lives.

AMY GOODMAN: What had been the effect of the budget cuts, specifically?

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Well, I can give a number of examples, but in particular, people who
have a serious mental illness diagnosis beginning last July were denied
any further coverage in a number of areas-case management, brand-name
medications, access to support groups, transportation subsidies, and
more recently, housing subsidies. So these individuals who have the most
serious forms of mental illness were essentially, except for generic
medications, were basically pushed out of the system. And these are
individuals who have a serious illness, who, in many cases, were
managing with a support network, are now being pushed to the point where
they can't manage. So they're decompensating. There's suicide attempts.
There's one woman that we know that's very ill, but she's been managing
OK. She's now been hospitalized for 36 days over the last six months.

AMY GOODMAN:
These budget cuts under Jan Brewer-she, in particular, the Governor,
must understand, with her son Ronald in a state mental facility for,
what, 20 years after being convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, but
was by reason of insanity, was the ultimate verdict. So she knows and
was a mental health activist herself, the Governor.

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Yes, she was. And frankly, to my surprise and many other of my
colleagues, I don't think she put up a strong enough battle to, you
know, at least protect or minimize the effect on mental health services.
I think she succumbed to the-kind of the ideologues who were pushing a
different agenda. And she did make some statements that she wanted to
protect mental health services, but ultimately I think she succumbed to
the other political pressures.

AMY GOODMAN: What about your own story, H. Clarke Romans, how you got involved with the Alliance on Mental Illness?

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Well, I'm a member of a club that no one wants to belong to. And people
become members when things happen to them like happened to my family.
My son Kenneth was a smart, athletic, good-looking, popular young man,
when his behavior became a little unusual. And we didn't know what was
going on. And eventually-we were living in Belgium at the time-a school
counselor at the International School of Brussels called us up and said,
"Gee, I think maybe Ken should be out of school for a while." And we
were like, "What?" So we went to the school. Ultimately we took Ken to
the doctor, a psychiatrist. And the doctor told us Kenneth is suffering
from the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Well, I'm a highly educated,
intelligent man. I couldn't spell "schizophrenia," let alone have any
idea what a devastating effect that was going to have on Kenneth, on the
family, and for the rest of his life. And so, even though my son was
killed by a drunk driver here in Tucson on September 11th, 2001, I'm
still involved, because I think the indignities that Kenneth suffered in
his life were not right, and I don't want to see that happen to other
people.

AMY GOODMAN: What about schools
reporting? I mean, the teacher who alerted you, that's very important.
But here was Jared Loughner in college. Every classroom, it seemed, the
kids, the students, the professors were concerned. They were scared. He
was very disruptive. What does it mean for a school to get involved? And
why don't they? I mean, in this case, Pima County Community College
says they did. They kicked him out.

H. CLARKE ROMANS:
Well, I think there are two levels here, and the rules of the game are
very different. When students are in high school and they're minors, the
school and the parents have a little more control. I mean, a few
articles that I've read so far in the local paper indicate that some of
these behaviors were already manifesting themselves in the-in high
school. I mean, I read some of his high school classmates reported, you
know, unusual behavior.

The difficulty for secondary schools is
that if the teachers bring things to the attention of the parents and
the parents take it to heart, that the school becomes financially
responsible for a lot of assistance that the student might get. And due
to budget cuts, a lot of principals and teachers, more or less, are
instructed: don't get involved, because if you do, the school is going
to be financially responsible. And the schools are under tremendous
financial pressure. So I think that's a negative influence on the
teachers. Even though school counselors and teachers deal with these
students every day, they're under kind of physical constraints.

When
you get to college, it's a different story, because, you know, by that
time, generally the students are considered adults. The parents really
don't have any specific legal authority to force the person to do any
particular thing. And only if a person is petitioned into the hospital
due to their persistent behavior, there's no way to force them to get
treatment. They can be persuaded, and the college and the parents, I
believe, have a role, a potential role, in persuading an individual to
get help. I don't know if the college did anything other than react to
the negative behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Pima
County Sheriff Dupnik, he made the comment about the hate-filled
language coming out of TV, radio, the talk shows. You have Jesse Kelly,
the opponent of Congressmember Giffords, who put out a slogan that said
something about targeting, taking on Giffords and bringing your M16 to a
rally for Kelly. H. Clarke Romans, what this kind of explosive language
does?

H. CLARKE ROMANS: Well, I think that it
doesn't help, particularly people who may have thought disorders or mood
disorders, the part of their brain that would exercise caution-I mean,
anybody that hears that kind of language may react to it. But people who
are suffering from these mental process disorders don't necessarily
have the part of their brain that would set the boundaries. The
cautionary or the commonsense parts of their thinking are not
functioning properly. So, this kind of language has a much greater
impact on individuals who are in that situation than on the average
person who has, you know, the control of their thought processes and has
in place the normal cautionary and restraining parts of the thought
process. Many of these individuals, that part of their brain is not
functioning properly, with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. There's
all kinds of thoughts going on, and the normal constraints and rational
thinking processes aren't there. So when you pour gasoline onto a hot
situation, the likelihood of a fire is a lot greater than if-you know,
if things are not so, you know, combustible.

AMY GOODMAN:
Just to be exact, what her opponent, the Tea Party-backed opponent of
Congressmember Giffords-and let's remember that Congressmember Giffords'
father said-walked into the hospital and said that the Tea Party was
her enemy, that he blamed the Tea Party. But Tea Party-backed candidate,
Jesse Kelly, said, "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove
Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse
Kelly."

H. Clarke Romans, I want to thank you for being with us,
executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of
Southern Arizona.

Share This Article

More in: