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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LETTER: Understanding Mental Health
2001-10-17

This article shared 1520 times since Wed Oct 17, 2001
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I am writing this letter in response to Mayor Daley's backlash against the parents of Edward A. Coburn, the man who was subdued by passengers of the American Airlines flight from L.A. to Chicago Oct. 8. The man was obviously suffering from a mental illness, which his father stated he only became aware of the week before. The Mayor, in front of thousands of TV viewers, angrily and harshly blamed the parents for not doing enough to have prevented the incident on that flight. I am sure it was a very scary incident and yes, everyone had a right to be upset and angry about it, especially the passengers and flight crew. ... However, we see the effects of mental illness everyday in some form or another.

I, like Mr. Coburn's father who appeared on television, feel very grateful to the heroic passengers on that flight. They did what they had to do and I personally commend them for their bravery. However, the problem I have is when the Mayor point blank blamed the parents for not doing enough. What a terrible thing to be accused of, especially when the blame really belongs to the government's failure to address more mental health issues in this country. Not only does Coburn have to deal with what's happening to his son, he also has to endure being publicly humiliated on television by, of all people, the Mayor of Chicago. People look to government leaders to be role models in confusing times like these, and Mayor Daley really put his foot in his mouth this time.

For the record, I have lived in Chicago all my life and I think Mayor Daley is a top-notch guy. But I think he should apologize to Coburn's parents. Obviously the Mayor needs to re-think his position on mental health in this country and in this city and start making some changes. I don't know how he could compare his teenage son or daughter to a 30-something-year old man. The father in this case only recently found out about his son's mental illness. ... Furthermore, what parent wants to see in his beloved child a mental illness? It carries such stigma in our society, which is fueled by fear and ignorance.

If you ask the common person, young or old: What is AIDS? You get an answer back quickly—this is because of all the efforts of our government and many health organizations getting information about AIDS into the homes and schools. This is a positive thing and is an important step in recognizing how we can deal with the problem. If you ask the common person what is bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, the answers are not very good. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes, affecting people of all colors and creeds. How many people can list the signs of depression? How many people know how much mental illness costs our society on a yearly basis in terms of time lost at work, robbery, stalking, child abuse, murder?

Depression affects millions of people in different degrees, but how many people know that it can lead to suicide and even psychosis? When are we going to realize as a nation that mental illness is just as terrible as any physical illness, and also just as treatable? When people start paying attention to each other's mental health and insurance companies start paying for the treatment people need, maybe then we can catch some illnesses before it's too late to save the lives of five innocent children or the sanity of a planeload of terrified people. What we cannot do now is blame the parents and the loved ones around those people for not doing enough. Until our government starts setting the example, we have no one to blame but our government.

We need more education in the schools and commercials on TV and yes, if necessary, pamphlets in our doorways to make people more aware of the signs of various mental illnesses. The Mayor can sure talk tough blaming the parents but can he also step up to the challenge of initiating more education in all the schools, TV, and radio to help educate the public on this still taboo subject. There are more Americans suffering from mental illness in this country than from AIDS, yet we do not do enough to address or inform the common person about it. The consequence is when a mentally ill person goes too far like in this case or when a mother kills her children or when a person walks into a diner or office and fires at innocent people. I swear every time that happens people talk about the tragedy and say the person was nuts and feel bad for the murdered victims but don't talk about what could have been done to prevent it. ... Don't we get it by now that these things could have been prevented if someone just understood what was happening and got the person some professional help. Unfortunately, we think it can't happen to us or to someone we know.

Matoula Mikos, Chicago


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