Below is a video you should watch before reading any further. Bear in mind that the subject is a child.
This took place in Australia, but do not comfort yourself with the notion that ‘it could not happen here’. Stanley Milgram put that nonsense to bed in conclusive fashion with his famous study on compliance and obedience to authority. You ought also to remember that, as I so often say here, mental illness can strike anybody, at any time, and in any place. There but for the grace of god and all that.
It has been some time since I last posted and I regret that, however real life has kept me busy. What I have done during that time is watch with dismay as things have apparently deteriorated in respect to mental health care and the treatment of sufferers of this constellation of conditions to which we refer as mental illness, a term which seems to describe far too much and far too little at the same time, has worsened. Now, I have no doubt that Dylan Voller represents a serious challenge for those working with him, however there can be no doubt that what has happened to him has done harm to him, and furthermore it has likely made his symptoms worse. Imagine the outcry if that had been a prisoner of war in Guantanamo Bay. Ironically one need not imagine. We have seen the photographs from there and Abu Graibh in Iraq, and the public fury was universal, the justice meted out to the perpetrators swift and harsh. Yet who weeps for Dylan Voller? Locked in prison since the age of just eleven years old, treated as an adult prisoner with all of the physical brutality that that entails, and written off by society. He will likely never work, never have a romantic relationship, never be allowed to live in such a way that grants him a moment’s freedom from the watchful gaze of the state and its penal apparatus.
Dylan’s family likely tolerate what is being done to their son because he has already sustained a criminal career that most people will never emulate, not even young offenders and delinquent children. This life of his has seen him attack his own mother and he has done the same to practically every authority figure that he ever encountered. In that light it seems reasonable that the state should intervene, I am sure most would agree. Really? Is this really the best that Australia, one of the richest and most enlightened countries on earth, can do? Are we seriously to believe that the only viable options are either to allow this boy to brutalise others, or alternatively to have the state brutalise him? Is there no middle ground?
In reality nothing will change for Voller. The men who have mistreated him will never be held criminally accountable for their actions. The media has taken great pains to stress that he attacked his mother, as though it were the ultimate crime a young boy could commit. Few of them bother to mention the foetal alcohol syndrome that he was born with, which paints him in a different light. All of a sudden we start to feel a little compassion, or I certainly do, owing to this boy’s terrible start in life thanks to his drunk of a mother, herself possibly mentally ill too. I doubt that she has even seen the inside of a courtroom to hold her accountable for that.
The indignity of stripping him naked as you can see in the video above is possibly the ultimate curse that this boy has to bear. I would invite you to compare those scenes with those of holocaust survivors, and, aside from the malnutrition and emaciation, I would ask you to honestly evaluate them and ask yourself what difference between the two is. Those who might serve as apologists for this sort of thing will point out that he could self-harm with his clothes. I say give him a gown made from paper instead. This boy has little to nothing in life, and to humiliate him like that is the final indignity in a whole screed of indignities and abuses that ought not to be tolerated in the future, but where mental illness is concerned then you can be assured that they will be.
To speak further of naked humiliation, this month Paul Gascoigne, the most gifted footballer of his generation, was photographed in a state of near undress, clearly struggling with alcoholism and suffering the severe effects of the illness he and I share. One thing that is 0bvious is that Gascoigne is, for the press, box office gold. The George Best of the modern day, it is clear that the journalists who follow this man around cannot wait for him to finally drink himself to death. On that day the front pages will be covered in cliched drivel spouting mock sadness over the early passing of a tortured genius.
I refuse to duplicate, or even link to the photographs in question. They represent nothing other than voyeurism, and the morbid tormenting of a human being in pain. I bitterly resent the media for doing this because this is the pain and suffering of a sick man being used to sell copy, and it is unethical and immoral. In the same month that this happened a young woman who broke her neck was given a front page story with the BBC for overcoming survival chances of 1%. Why the disparity? Who congratulates the man or woman who beats the depressive urge to commit suicide and walks tall for another day? Who endorses the courage of a patient who goes to ask for help from the NHS, despite knowing the cost of a diagnosis of mental illness? Where is the praise for the people with mental health issues who suffer such terrible symptoms, yet who entertain us? Did anyone stand by Robin Williams in life, during which he was crippled emotionally by his own bipolar disorder? Of course not, he was simply lauded in death as, yes, you guessed it, the flawed, tortured genius.
I fear for Paul Gascoigne. He appears to be so far along the line of a death spiral that recovery and salvation are now challenges that will seem, to him, nigh-on insurmountable. I never give up hope, however I think that the way the media is permitted to harass this man is going to make it impossible for him to manage his illness. They are throwing him under the bus, possibly literally in future.
What is so painful for me to hear in respect to him is that so many people bemoan his decision not to play for Manchester United. I have heard several times that Sir Alex Ferguson would have ‘knocked him into shape’. It is remarkable how many people think this way. It happened to me personally but it seems to be a common notion, the sense that the mentally ill need to be beaten out of their sickness. Dylan Voller is clear evidence of that, as am I and so is Gascoigne. I have yet to hear of anyone ever being successfully beaten into shape. I certainly have not encountered anyone who was cured of a physical ailment through violence or brutality so I do not understand why this idea is so pervasive and why it stubbornly persists in the public consciousness.
Seriously Paul, I hope you make it.
The State of Things
The state of things is not good. The raised threat and incidence of terrorism has brought with it a now universal trope in respect to understanding the pathology of atrocities. Read about any act of terrorism this year and I guarantee you that there will be a pronouncement somewhere of mental illness being the cause. This is usually done to deflect blame away from religion, but also it is used to understand the ununderstandable. When people ask how a human being could do this to other human beings someone will blame mental illness, usually with a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head. What is going on here is that all of the shame, guilt and outrage over the crime is being dumped on the backs of the mentally ill. There is a word for this: scapegoating. In biblical times society would pronounce that all of its ills would be loaded as a burden onto the back of a goat, and that goat would be cast outside the city, never to return. This is, in a nutshell, what happens to sufferers of mental illness. Every act of terror is now laid at our door. There is not a single dissenting voice in the media now. The notion that it is all our fault and that the mentally ill are the main threat to society is absolutely ubiquitous. Nobody doubts it, nobody speaks up against it, yet, as I have previously proven conclusively, when it comes to crime, the only thing we may be sure of is that a person who has a mental health problem is not only far less likely to commit a crime than a mentally normative person, they are also far more likely to be a victim of crime than an otherwise normal person. Yet still the myth propagates and dominates debate. This has to change. We are literally killing ourselves through this act of collective scapegoating. In blaming the wrong thing we cannot solve the problem. In blaming the innocent we make a mockery of our supposed compassion and enlightenment.