Enlighten people about mental illness

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2006

I have never met Moundville Mayor Jack Morrison, but I don&8217;t think I would like him very much.

If you believe The Tuscaloosa News &8212; and I have no reason not to believe them &8212; Mr. Morrison sounds like a complete bigot. Now, I&8217;m not saying he is a bigot, just that he sounds like one. At the very least, he comes across as an uneducated neanderthal whose idea of inclusion seems to be Stepfordian.

For those who missed it, the mayor took it upon himself to represent the city council and indeed the entire City of Moundville when he spoke publicly against plans by the Indian Rivers Mental Health Center to open a residential facility in his municipality.

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It&8217;s hard for me to believe that one man knows the hearts and minds of thousands, so I pray that the citizens he serves have a better understanding of mentally ill persons. Likewise, I hope they throw him out of office at the next balloting. The same goes for a few councilmembers.

Councilwoman Patricia Tanski: &8220;I hope everyone understands we are doing everything we can to prevent this.&8221;

Councilman Kirk Pearson: &8220;I can tell you what, I&8217;ve been around crazy people all my life. Moundville doesn&8217;t want any more.&8221;

According to The News, these fine examples of leadership tried to bend the law every which way to accommodate their prejudicial misconceptions of mentally ill persons. It took Town attorney Robert Spence repeatedly telling them they did not have the authority to refuse water and electrical service or to change zoning on a whim because they don&8217;t like the business going in the location.

What morons!

My father always warned me to never write mad, so I waited a couple of days after reading that article to pen this column.

It did little good. Rereading it incenses me to no end. The only thing that gives me comfort is that the council failed to stop Indian Rivers. Perhaps once the facility is built and is operational, people in Moundville who are misguided by their leadership will grow to understand that mental illness is an illness, no different from cancer or the flu.

Why the anger? Let me share.

My father-in-law was paranoid schizophrenic. I first met him in a &8220;home&8221; in rural Mississippi when my then-girlfriend took me to visit him. She was worried about the visit, afraid that I would freak out and act irrationally, perhaps say something stupid about something of which I knew nothing.

For the life of me, I can&8217;t understand why she would be worried about something like that.

My wife, Tara, was 21-years-old when her father first started living in a facility for mentally ill persons. She was five years into her new life &8212; one where after her mother&8217;s death to cancer she was raising her sister, who is eight years her junior.

She and her sister would go every weekend to visit their father. It was not the people who lived there who were frightening, it was the place itself. To call this particular facility a &8220;home&8221; is like calling a FEMA trailer a mansion. But in Mississippi, it was the best she could find.

I never knew my father-in-law other than being ill. On good days, he was as normal as most any other person. We talked about sports, politics, fishing and hunting. He would regale us with stories of friends and of growing up.

On other days, it was harder. For me it was hard because I saw the pain in my wife&8217;s eyes and the confusion in my sister-in-law&8217;s eyes. In him, I saw only my father-in-law the way I&8217;d always known him. They, however, saw someone different.

They saw the father who cut hair, who played with them, who loved their mother unconditionally. They saw a man they knew as &8220;daddy&8221; growing up, only it wasn&8217;t &8220;daddy&8221; anymore. Not on the not-so-good days. It was him, but it wasn&8217;t.

I can relate. When my father grew ill before he died, it wasn&8217;t the same. He wasn&8217;t the same. He was frail and weak. He was a shell of his former self. The day he died, his friends &8212; large men who once coached and taught with him &8212; came and wept when they saw him lying in that hospital bed.

There is no difference between my dad and my father-in-law, save mental illness is not terminal and my dad&8217;s illness was. Mental illness is for life.

So, yeah, I may be a little out of line saying Morrison and some of his fellow town leaders sound like bigots, but then again, I don&8217;t care. I just hope he and his comrades become enlightened &8212; as much as I hope I move past my anger.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to sam.hall@demopolistimes.com.