In Salt Lake City, a man pushes a shopping cart into the library and threatens security guards with a metal cane. In Ogden, a military veteran shoots six policemen attempting to serve him with a warrant. In Davis County, a young man kills his mother. Ten miles north, a woman suffocates her children.
From St. George to Logan, reports of violent, disturbing acts stream through communities. And all have one common explanation: mental illness.
Label it what you want: goofy, strange, slow, challenged, a bit off-center. It’s time we take mental illness seriously and fund adequate treatment instead of snickering and hoping the problem—and the victims—will silently melt away.
A condominium management team sent me a brief history of a tenant it considers a risk to her neighbors. The tenant probably won’t earn headlines by shooting a cop, but there are many like her living among us.
“She runs out to the front sidewalk nearly naked, then knocks on doors saying she is locked out of her house.”
“She picks up her neighbor’s front door mat and puts it in her garbage.”
“She calls taxi cab companies for transportation, then refuses to pay for the services.”
“She threatens to take a key and scratch her neighbor’s car.”
“She tells stories about our maintenance crew coming into her home and touching her, even though the maintenance people weren’t working at the time.”
“She uses terrible language, calling a nearby disabled man ‘a handicapped creep who should die.’”
“She threw a glass of water at Mr. Smith; she called Mr. Johnson and told him Mrs. Johnson was dead on the floor of his unit.”
“She gets confused about her carport, claiming that strangers are using it. When we investigate, she points to someone else’s carport.”
“She walks barefoot to the grocery store, even in the winter.”
“She keeps changing the name on her front door.”
“She accuses neighbors of stealing money and jewelry from her.”
Some call these incidents comical while others call them tragic, but all would agree the woman is mentally ill, posing a risk to her and to others. Unlike in many case, illegal drug use is not part of this woman’s problem.
I don’t have a background in mental health and I don’t have the patience to fathom the bureaucratic regulations and privacy concerns involved in the treatment of mentally ill people. All I know from reading the newspaper headlines or watching the evening news, is that we ignore the problem at our own peril.