We still lack a proper structure for dealing with mental illness.
JAIL AND SUICIDE
The blame belongs on society itself
The headline reads “Minnesota jails have failed inmates with mental illness” (Nov. 23). Presumably, well-meaning mental-health professionals recommended closing large mental-health facilities and relying on community-based mental-health services. Supposedly, well-meaning legislators passed the bills that closed large mental-health facilities and put mental-health services into the community. Both health professionals and legislators didn’t take one thing into account — the community. Communities are not willing to pay the cost of community-based mental-health facilities and services. But they certainly are willing to pay for jails and prisons.
And as long as we have jails and prisons, thinks the community, we have a place for the mentally ill where they won’t bother us. But jails and prisons are not equipped to treat the mentally ill. And prison guards are not trained to deal with the mentally ill, never mind help them. It’s not the jails that have failed inmates with mental illness, it’s the community.
A man with a heart attack isn’t sent to jail because he collapsed in the street; he’s sent to a hospital. So why send a man who’s wandering around screaming obscenities to jail? He needs a mental-health facility. Don’t expect jails to handle mental illness any more than you expect them to handle a heart attack. Put the blame where it belongs — on us.
ELAINE FRANKOWSKI, Minneapolis
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I can’t claim to know the anguish of the mother quoted in the article. Losing a child is an unimaginable worst-case-scenario for most parents — no matter the cause.
This mother’s warning to her son’s jailers that he had a blank stare stirred memories in me of losing a dear friend to depression years ago. The vacant look in my friend’s eyes just weeks before her suicide left me with the disturbing impression that her soul had already left this world while her body remained (too temporarily). I’ve struggled with the predictable and troubling questions surrounding what I might have done to change the heartbreaking outcome.
At the time of my friend’s death, my husband asked, “How dark must it have been for her to leave behind her very beloved young children?” This question and the seemingly premature departure of my friend’s spirit have consoled me to some degree in realizing that what prompts suicide is too often out of the control of those closest to the suicidal person.
This letter is not intended as a blanket absolution of those in the prison system who are tasked with caring for suicidal inmates. And I certainly do not condone the forging of documents to cover blame. However, I do empathize with the executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association who described the nightmare scenario inside the jail that includes those with mental illness. Mental illness on its own can be a nightmare scenario.
CORY GIDEON GUNDERSON, Lakeville
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I do hope this is not too harsh to say, but maybe one needs to live one’s life in a way to stay out of jail. I do understand mental illness and depression, as I myself have suffered. It infuriates me when mental illness is used in all ways to blame others — in this instance, the criminal system and jailers. Their job is not an easy one, and those who break the law know what lies ahead for them.
RITA M. LEE, Fargo, N.D.
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Nationally, suicide is the third cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. My family experienced this trauma firsthand when our son Joshua, 24, joined these statistics in 2007. Can we as a community overcome the shame, stigma and silence that often surrounds the deaths of those who most likely did not want to die, but who wanted the pain to end? A first step is starting conversations about this reality, along with acting compassionately toward all those we meet, in jail or out. I am confident there can be prevention, education and healing.
RENÉE ZITZLOFF, Minnetonka
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