Saturday, January 26, 2013


SPECIAL NOTE: This article was written by Bonnie Jo Schell,Chairperson of the Board of Directors for NC CANSO.

President Obama’s Plan to protect US children and communities from random and planned violence includes one alarming proposal. The President wants all loopholes closed from state and national lists that could keep guns out of dangerous hands—the hands of those diagnosed to be mentally ill. NY quickly passed legislation to force professionals to notify an agent of the state if they responsibly judged the patient as likely to harm herself or others, compromising patient-doctor confidentiality.

Keeping lists of people either receiving treatment or committed for danger to self or others or likelihood to functionally deteriorate is scapegoating the one out of every five Americans likely to need mental health treatment at some point in their lives. The List demonizes the “Other” as The Problem, in the same way that the rhetoric in the last election demonized 47% of our citizens receiving government benefits as being responsible for the high debt ceiling of the US. At least none of the mass murderers since Columbine were members of the 47%.

In scapegoating a person or relatively powerless group is made to bear the blame, is punished and stigmatized for wrongs that were not of his doing. The term comes from a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people of Israel on its head. (Lev 16:8-22.) In the U.S. we have scapegoated Communists and their sympathizers, Japanese-Americans, Gays, Roman Catholics, the Irish, African-Americans, people from Mexico or South America, and since the 9/11 attacks, people of Middle Eastern ancestry. The Inquisition tortured and burned people making suggestions of religious and social reform; The Holocaust gassed people charged with being a drain on the German economy: The lists of expendables included Gypsies, the Physically and Mentally Disabled, Inebriates, Homosexuals, and Jews—all “useless eaters.”

The Dangerous List would contain many false positives since the only sure way to get services is to say you feel like killing yourself or someone else. Every homeless person in the dead of winter knows that.

The Dangerous List is a rush to “do something” that is overly simplified and not sound:

• Neither experts in criminal law nor psychiatrists can accurately predict the next violent offenders.
• Individuals with suicidal ideation will be careful to not mention it to a therapist or doctor for fear of being put on The List. Whose suicide rates have increased at an alarming rate? Teenagers and senior men, usually not in treatment. There are twice as many suicides among mental health patients as homicides.
• The chances that the list would contain more than 1% of the 5% of persons with mental illness who commit violent acts while using alcohol is slim.
• In these days of mass access to information “in the public domain,” lists of persons with mental illness are bound to be misused. Will Community Colleges and/or Universities check their applicants against The List? Will veterans with PTSD be turned down for further education? Will Homeland Security use The List at airports?
• Those considered to have the personality disorder of being a sociopath without any empathy for others may never be on The List unless a parent puts them on when they kill animals as a child, store up grudges, blaming others, and are socially rejected from groups they wish to belong to.

Back in 1963 when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the doctor told my parents to be sure I never received help in the public system or had my psychiatric sessions submitted to a group or private insurance company or I would never be allowed to teach school in Georgia. I learned to pass as “normal.” I was fearful on every job that it would somehow be discovered that I lied in answering the old question: Have you now or in the past been diagnosed or told you have a mental illness? That question, along with birthdates, is gone now since it was a violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

I thought times had changed. Mental Illness is now known to be a condition from which at least 60% recover completely. Hollywood and country music stars, athletes and politicians, have been open about having depression or bipolar and addiction disorders. They get treatment, are interviewed on mindful, deliberate changes in their lives they are making, and they go back to work.
Personally I don’t object to persons who have been judicially committed as a danger to self or others being prohibited from owning a gun, but that prohibition should have time limits and not be for a lifetime.
In the US we keep a registry of those with Tuberculosis because of its extreme contagion and destruction. We keep lists of convicted pedophiles, but not all of those who may have thought about sexually molesting minors and mentioned that to a therapist. Even though a small percentage of persons with diabetes go into a coma and cause automobile or truck accidents, we don’t require doctors to turn in the names of those with Type I or II Diabetes. People with epilepsy in most states can have a driver’s license if they have gone three years without a seizure. We do not have a master list of households to which peace officers have been called for domestic violence or restraining order violations; that information only is revealed in the newspapers after a murder.

The last time I was seriously and dangerously suicidal, I made a daily contract with my doctor to live another day and to write poetry and call a friend every day until I began to feel better. If I had revealed my suicidal thoughts and the doctor had immediately reported me to authorities, I would not have gone back. Compiling a master Dangerous Persons List gives the state a false sense of protection and safety. Furthermore, it removes dignity and respect from a group of people who have not committed a crime.

It would make more sense to reduce the availability of weapons of mass destruction.

Bonnie Jo Schell
January 21, 2013
You can learn more about the author at

Thursday, January 24, 2013


When I have said that we are more than mere biological beings, that we are indeed bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings it has always been hard to discuss our spirituality without getting bogged down in arguments over differing religions and theologies.  Sometimes I don’t even get that far because the biological view of humankind is so reductionist as to preclude any discussion of spirituality or soul at all.  The biologicalization of psychiatry and the lack of research being done to look at the mind as being more than mere matter has prevented the advancement of wisdom about what we label as mental illnesses.  A way forward that is just, dignified, preserves civil rights and liberties and is holistic for the person we call mentally ill is not possible in an age of reductionism.

I have not seen a time when more people across this country are calling for the mental health system to come up with solutions than now.  The fact that the system does not have a solution to mass shootings does not seem to matter to the press, the people or the system which will take the additional dollars knowing they can’t deliver what they are being asked to do.

I am not saying the system does not need more money.   It needs more just to serve the people asking for services, but it can’t do what the public wants no matter how much money you give it.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was a French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist. Weil's whole life was marked by an exceptional compassion for the suffering of others.  In her book The Need for Roots she said the following.

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”

How can one best get rooted?  I would like to suggest by getting close to the earth.  They have a fancy name for it.  They call it eco-spirituality, but I call it soothing my soul by a mountain stream.  I admit it helps if there are trout in the stream.

You can’t feel rooted to a place unless you feel a part of the soil, sand, streams, rivers, oceans, trees, rocks etc.  Yes feeling part of a community is very important, but feeling your soul touch God’s creation is important too.  If you don’t believe in God it still works.  Your soul and nature commune.  You don’t have to believe for God’s spirit to be sitting on a rock in the woods waiting for you to come.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Can you imagine if a soldier came home and received an honorable discharge from the service only to learn that he/she had lost the right to own a weapon because they had sought mental health care for psychological wounds suffered from serving their country in a war zone?   This question may sound absurd to you, but that is because we have no idea what people mean when they start talking about background checks and mental health. 

Some people that I have heard and read in the national media seem to believe that mental health professionals can predict when people are going to be violent.  They believe as they have for years that they have the right to lock people away even when they have not committed a crime.  This parental attitude of government doesn’t just reach into the lives of those of us with a label of one of the mental illnesses.  It touches the lives of every person living in this country.

You may think you will be safer if you lock me away if a mental health professional thinks I may be dangerous or deny me the right to own a weapon, but I can assure you that I nor folks like me are not the problem.  You will not be safer.

In the first place no one is willing to spend the money on mental health to provide the services to people who are asking for help that they need and want.  Do you think they will really make a big effort to find these so called “monsters” and foot the bill for them?  How do you find them?  Are we going to have camps for all young people between 15-25 that do not fit well into what the Congress decides is normal after holding hearings on television?  Maybe have tent camps for them in the desert or wilderness with big fences around them?

The picture I am drawing is no more absurd than the rhetoric you hear passing for wisdom today on the issues of gun control, mental health and violence.   One thing I think I can say for sure is that all this talk about gun control and mental health will make soldiers and veterans think longer and harder about asking for help.  Even if it really would not stop us from owning a weapon, the thought it might stop us from walking through any mental health door.

To a soldier a weapon is more than a right on an old piece a paper.  It is his/her best friend.  Strip a soldier naked, but don’t take their weapon.

They say they are looking at everything.  Have they looked at how they act towards each other?  It seems to me no more than a big joke that a totally dysfunctional group of men and women in Washington that act in abusive ways toward each other can come up with a plan to help end violence in this nation.  I think it would take a Peacemaker.


Friday, January 04, 2013


The song title "The Bible Tells Me So" is not going to be a sufficient answer to some of the big questions being brought forward by those who want us to believe we are little more than a body controlled by three pounds of wetware (brain).
The following is from the homepage of Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. 
"Emerging questions at the interface of law and neuroscience challenge fundamental notions at the heart of our criminal justice system. Given that brains develop as a complex interaction of genes and environment, can we really assume that people are 'practical reasoners', and deciding in exactly the same way? Is mass incarceration the most fruitful method to deal with juveniles, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted? Can novel technologies such as real-time brain imaging be leveraged for new methods of rehabilitation? Can large scale data analysis give us insight into patterns of crime, recidivism, and the effect of legislation? 
Because most behavior is driven by brain networks we do not consciously control, the legal system will eventually be forced to shift its emphasis from retribution to a forward-looking analysis of future behavior."
The debate about gun control is at the top of the list for lots of folks.  How many of us even know about the neuro-law movement?  It is not benign.  It is a severe thought malady eating at the soul of post-modern society.  It may be more dangerous than any gun because it rots the roots of our very core.
When the prevailing thought in the bio-scientific world is that mind is simply a mass of tissue in our skulls that control us, then we begin to lose those qualities that make us human.  The majority of us don't have to agree with them for their views to rule us.  They only have to convince lawmakers of their great wisdom.  How difficult do you think that will be?  If it sounds like an easy and sure solution, they will adopt it.
You don't have to be a Christian not to want to be reduced to nothing.  You just have to be a human who wants to still have the right to feel, love, get mad, and have thoughts.  You want to think they are yours and that they don't belong to the brain folks to decide how you came up with them.  If you want to be free, you had better start paying attention to the neuro-law folks before you become a bull frog in a biology lab.
to be continued...