Like everyone else I’ve been glued to my computer, newspapers, and the radio, keeping track of the catastrophic and heartbreaking events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. As a parent and an educator, I’ve alternated between tears and anger, prayer and frustration, trying to understand how someone could murder little children and their teachers, and imagining the thought of losing my own child. I’ve been awed by the bravery of the educators at Sandy Hook.
Yet, as I listen to the media, I’m appalled by the reports and conversations equating — intentionally or not — mental illness with violent behavior. You see, my family can imagine losing a son and brother to mental illness, because we experienced it for 24 years. Violence against others was never part of the equation, and it’s not for most people who live with brain diseases. Read the December 17, 2012 New York Times Health section article, In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness by Richard A. Friedman, M.D.
From the time my brother, Jeff, was 18 until he took his own life at age 42, he suffered from bipolar brain disease. He was erratic, often upset, and frequently angry with us — his family members. He wanted so much to be like the rest of us, his friends and family, and to get on with his life. Despite all of his problems, however, he was not violent toward people. His most erratic behavior occurred when he overturned a grocery cart in a parking lot next to our car — an attempt to demonstrate how angry he was with my father, who was trying to reason to him.