November 25, 2010
Dependency and the Destruction of American VirtuesBy Daniel Fitzgerald
My oldest son, Keith (not his real name), is an adult. He lives with our family at home, and he probably will for the rest of his life.
As a child, Keith was extraordinary. He was extremely verbal at an early age, immensely creative, and astonishingly literate.
Keith's senior year in high school was remarkable for the range of activities in which he was engaged and the energy that he invested in them. He was an active member of our church youth group, showed promising acting talent as he participated in a drama club, earned a brown belt in karate, and completed his third Easter week mission trip with our church. He was working steadily, paying for his car, gas, cell phone service, and auto insurance. My son received the "employee of the month" award the first month at his job. He excelled in Latin and linguistics, the latter being a hobby that he pursued vigorously. He had many friends who loved him. Other than a few rough spots that we chalked up to normal teen rebellion, my son's future seemed bright.
Keith naturally scored high on his SAT, and college offers started pouring in. He chose a small Christian liberal arts college close to home from which he received a generous scholarship. The school was forming a classics program, and the department head saw our son as a cornerstone of the newly developing major. Four years ago, we tearfully sent him off to the campus dorms, anticipating good things ahead.
And then the nightmare began.
We later learned that major life changes, even positive ones, could trigger the onset of a psychological breakdown in people predisposed to mental illnesses. We also learned that such disorders often have a genetic component. On my side of the family was depression, going back at least to my grandmother. On my wife's side, bipolar disorder was suspected in her grandfather and an aunt.
This is not a story about my son, but rather about how our society responds to affliction, so I'll keep this brief. It took almost a year to get the correct diagnosis, but finally, after going to mental health professionals who did more harm than good, a psychiatrist determined that Keith had bipolar disorder, complicated by extreme chronic anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. By the time our son received his diagnosis, his college career was destroyed, he had lost his job, and he was penniless and in legal trouble.
Keith now takes medication to control his hallucinations, two drugs to keep him from slipping into catatonic depression, another to keep the destructive mania at bay, and occasionally a fifth that is supposed to help his anxiety. However, despite the symptoms being more or less under control, our son is still not able to function. He hasn't worked for years and has flunked out of the local city college.
What has been interesting is people's response to our problem. Before he was properly diagnosed, the first psychologist Keith saw immediately wanted to help our son obtain government disability payments. Without even giving Keith a correct diagnosis, the doctor almost reflexively thought that the solution to my son's problems was to go on the government dole. After three sessions, we stopped seeing him.
My wife and I attended some educational support groups, sponsored by a mental health advocacy organization, in hopes of finding some answers. People there were amazed that we hadn't applied for Social Security or disability payments for our son. When we responded that we thought we would be able to handle things financially, they shook their heads and told us that we'd change our minds eventually, and they actually implied that we were being negligent in not seeking such aid.
Keith was dropped from our health insurance when he left school, so we embarked on what some told us was an impossible mission: finding insurance for a young man with a preexisting mental condition. It was difficult. But thanks to the free-market system, we were grateful to discover an HMO that accepted Keith and has provided him with excellent psychiatric care. The premiums are affordable for now; I can't imagine what will happen if and when ObamaCare kicks in.
It occurred to me in the midst of this painful journey that people today automatically default to the government for answers. My wife and I are not wealthy, but for the time being, we have the means to provide for our son. We are his parents. Now that we know he can't handle adult responsibilities, we firmly believe that it is incumbent upon us, not other taxpayers, to support him. We are well aware that without us, he would be homeless, wandering the streets and obeying the dictates of his diseased mind. But it is our responsibility, not that of our neighbors, to see to it that he has a home, support, and supervision of his medical needs.
At the support group, I found it disturbing that everyone there seemed to believe that demanding more housing, food stamps, and mental health and medical services from the government was the answer to the problems of their ill relatives. I don't mean to pass judgment on these people; perhaps they had tried everything else and had no other recourse. However, there is something terribly wrong in our culture when we begin to view the incompetent and substandard services provided by government agencies as the only reasonable solution.
This is just one example of the massive shift in thinking that has plagued our society for many years. It started with the New Deal and has been accelerating since the 1960s. Instead of a nation of people reliant upon our own resources, our families, and our local communities, we look to Big Brother to meet our needs. Instead of taking care of our own, we depend on a cold, unfeeling, and bureaucratic government to provide us or our dependents with food, money, housing, medical care, jobs, and any number of other services.
I believe that this change in the American character is fundamental. It is what prompted people to vote for Obama, the man who has brought an aggressive projection of government intrusion into our lives that is both tyrannical and subversive. This degradation of character has made crybabies out of college students, who protest tuition hikes at taxpayer-funded universities because they feel they are owed an education. It has eroded self-reliance so much that union members demand job guarantees, as well as unreasonable and unsustainable benefits which lead to the destruction of businesses and local economies. It has corrupted people to the point that they feel entitled to any number of things that were once their own responsibility to provide. Instead of being a shameful last resort, the government is, for huge numbers of people, the first place they look to when they have a need.
We have paid dearly for this, and we will suffer for it greatly in the future. This kind of dependence enervates a nation, leading to passivity and to spiritual and economic bankruptcy.
Daniel Fitzgerald is the pen name of an author who prefers anonymity.