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Monday, November 20, 2006

Mental Illness and CNY

Mondays after a long weekend are the worst. I get dragged kicking and screaming into another week. Thank goodness for holidays.
I spent time in upstate New York, from Rochester to Utica. If you've never been, I highly recommend some time in central New York. I lived in Auburn and then Syracuse for a few years and Syracuse is a fun city despite the weather, which you get used to. Go Orange! I was especially drooling over the prices of housing, which are a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of homes here. Nobody can beat the fall foliage and Syracuse hosts the awesome NY state fair. Plus, I miss being able to buy beer in the grocery stores and gas stations. People in NYC consider anything above Schenectady upstate, but for a real CNY experience, I highly recommend Syracuse, Skaneteles and a scenic drive to any small town along Lake Ontario or a Finger Lake. Be sure to try the wine!
While sipping Chianti at my in-laws in Sodus Point I was talking with my husband's Aunt who works in the mental health field. Our conversation opened my eyes to an entire population of people who are reliant on the state with no viable alternatives, the mentally ill. These are people who can be mentally challenged (the non-PC term is retarded) or those with thought disorders (schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, hearing voices, etc.) I would add seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's to this category as well. Even if they are lucky enough to have family who want to take care of them, the care is intensive, draining and lifelong. Even with medication, the best situation many of these people can hope for is placement in a supervised alternative housing project with like individuals. Parents who want to care for their children may not be able to due to increasing age, severity of mental illness and burnout from years of care. Adult children become strangers to their own parents and are forced into a confusing and overwhelming care situation when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Just a few generations ago these people were locked in padded rooms, strapped down, medicated into oblivion and forgotten. In attempting to treat the mentally ill/challenged like fellow humans we brought some out of the institutions but the care is still lacking. "More is always needed", according to my husbands aunt. State agencies do not offer Christian care in many ways but the alternative is even grimmer. Wandering the streets of many major cities and sleeping in the cold are those who slip through the cracks or who avoid the system entirely. This is a population simply unable to care for itself, and the afflicted range in demeanor from childlike innocence to violence. Their care calls for community concern and action because it is impossible to be consumed entirely by family members. Is there a truly Christian answer to this problem? Can we take care of the mentally ill/handicapped without relying on the state to do so with our tax dollars? This is a new area of concern for me as I consider a Catholic Worker solution. Stay tuned.