I about 15 or 16 the first time I realized that everyone else in the world did not walk around thinking about suicide at least once a day. The revelation came after a school assembly on the subject when our class was herded into separate rooms where intimate groups of 50 or so giggling, super-sensitive teenagers were invited to play a quiet game of True Confession.
The assembly leaders asked us if any of us had ever contemplated taking her own life, and I raised my hand. I was only one dumb enough to do it. My candor earned me a private session with one of the leaders who assured me I wasn’t normal and offered me a pamphlet to a nearby church. I decided not to tell him about the coupon for the box of sleeping pills that I carried in my backpack every day. I decided not to tell anyone because I already had a few labels at that school – ugly, strange – and I wasn’t excited about adding loony tunes to the list.
A few years and suicide attempts later a shrink helped me pin the manic-depressive (as bi-polar disorder was more commonly called back then) label on myself, but it wasn’t something I wore around in public. I was worried about being able to get a job. I was worried if I ever had kids, I wouldn’t be allowed to keep them. And I worried I’d be put on some kind of government list.
Now the State of Vermont is getting ready to do just that to people with mental illness. Under the guise of gun safety and protecting people from themselves, they have pushed a law through the senate that will put people with mental illness who have been deemed (by a court) to be a danger to themselves or others on a special FBI ‘pre-crime’ watch list of people who are not allowed to own guns , even though mentally ill people are rarely violent and many may never actually go to buy a gun.
I got a little nervous when I read this.
I’ve been out about my bi-polar situation for many years. It was harder to hide it than be honest about it, but as anyone whose stood at the kitchen counter, gripping a knife during a manic episode and seeing visions of their own amputated wrist can tell you, being a danger to oneself kind of goes with the manic-depressive territory. I called a shrink the last time that happened, knowing I would find help and a medication adjustment. I do know that one thing, however, that would keep me from walking into his office and talking openly about an urge to hurt anyone (myself or anyone else) is the fear of getting on some government list. It might keep me from going at all.
Now, I’m not saying that if I walk into my shrink’s office next week and tell him that voices from the planet Crapulon have told me to kill everybody whose name ends in ’s’ that he shouldn’t report me and take steps to prevent a clear and present danger to someone else (which, by the way is already the law). He should probably help me get into an institution at that point which would certainly keep me from getting a gun.
I don’t think, however, someone who has never actually committed a crime should be put into some national pre-crime database simply because they are mentally ill and because they might one day buy a gun.
You can call me paranoid to worry about a government that has never passed a law data to prevent crime or terrorism that ended up drag-netting the private communications and records of thousands of innocent citizens into databases that kept them from getting on planes or had them erroneously detained without counsel before, if they want off the government watch list, requiring them to prove their innocence (and nobody is innocent) because they’ve been assumed guilty, but in my addle-pated mind, nothing says stigma like putting a mentally ill person into a national FBI database.
Never mind that this doesn’t keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people living with mentally healthy people – unless we want to add them to the list. It also doesn’t keep hands out of the hands of mentally ill people who don’t seek help because they don’t trust shrinks – unless we just want to add a random 5.3 million people to the list to be on the safe side (Do you feel safer?). But it does do something. By creating a special database just for mentally ill people at the nation’s largest crime investigation organization, it is taking the first step toward classifying them (us) as criminals. Excuse me, pre-criminals. I’m not sure if that’s much better.