ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Tragedy That Befell Miriam Carey

By Jack Bragen
Friday October 04, 2013 - 04:09:00 PM

Miriam Carey, a thirty-four-year-old woman, with her young child in the car, attempted to crash the gates at the White House, led Capitol Police on a high-speed car chase, and was shot to death near Capitol Hill. 

The symptoms of psychosis that may have led to this woman's demise may not be extremely unusual for people who suffer from bipolar or schizophrenia. I once had a friend who pulled off stunts that were similar--for purposes of this article I will call the man "L." 

The man I knew named L told me that he once attempted to crash the gates at the Concord Naval Weapons Station and claimed he fled in his pickup truck from police who were firing at him. His story may have been a bit exaggerated, since he apparently survived that situation. In his past, many of his delusions concerned the government and the military. L believed he was a CIA agent. 

My friend named L had made a recovery from his illness until shortly after 9-11. Despite his tough exterior, I believe L was a sensitive man and was probably very disturbed by our country going to war. 

Within a year of the 9/11 incident, L became ill one final time and apparently died of a heart attack due to the stresses of being psychotic. 

On the heels of the tragedy on Capitol Hill, and the tragedy of the Naval Yard Shooting, many people might believe society ought to have more control over persons with mental illness. But there are problems with that idea. 

Today, persons with mental illness who are in recovery are subject to multiple pressures. For one thing, the SSI benefits that we receive are no longer sufficient for us to survive--at least in the Bay Area, where everything is expensive. Many persons with mental illness are forced to get food from churches and due to economic pressures must live in partly or completely institutionalized situations. 

In addition to economic pressure, we may have more fear connected to the possibility of relapses. It seems like law enforcement is more eager than it was to lock up persons whose behavior is "different." Thus, persons with mental illness are living with the fear of being incarcerated. 

Today, there is more surveillance than there ever has been which is conducted in the name of national security. When surveillance is real instead of imagined, it is that much more difficult for a person subject to paranoid delusions. Reality has morphed to resemble our delusions, it seems. 

Perhaps the apparent increase of incidents involving mentally ill people is due to the fact that society is putting a heck of a lot of pressure on us. There is currently a great deal of pressure on us to behave "normally" and also many of us have difficulties adapting to the demands of modern society. 

As long as persons with mental illness have some amount of liberty, there will inevitably be some tragic incidents that occur infrequently. However, the solution isn't necessarily found in increasing monitoring and restrictions of persons with mental illness. 

I believe society ought to make conditions better, more hopeful and more comfortable so that we are no longer living in a constant state of fear, despair, and poverty. Improving conditions for us may not completely eliminate tragic incidents, but it should be done on the basis of societal conscience.