Jun 042014

oz cagedtrigger warnings – recent tragic events, suicide

A few days ago I complained that our society doesn’t care to treat mental illness. And that we reap occasional mass killings as a result.

In my last post I said that we are so averse to allowing a tiny chance of a bad outcome that we far overspend on medical care, which results in medical care being so expensive that our system is collapsing, and most people cannot afford basic care. I said it would be better to have occasional terrible outcomes like 50 years of pain if the overall situation was improved enough to reduce total suffering by a greater amount.

It did not escape my attention that these are potentially contradictory concerns. It may be that if we focused as much money and effort on mental health as we do on “healthcare,” we would end up in a similarly worse-overall situation. It may be that the occasional bullet-spewing lunatic is the “tiny chance of a bad outcome” we need to absorb in order to prevent worse long-term aggregate effects. After all, annual number of deaths by crazed gunmen is actually extremely small, it just really gets our attention.

This, of course, makes me extremely uncomfortable. I am particularly affected by these killings as A. I suffered from mental health issues myself in my late adolescence, and B. a family member of mine is having extreme mental health problems right now. I’ve seen the mental healthcare in this country failing horribly firsthand. It’s a joke. And it would not be cheap to fix.

I don’t actually know that this is a torture-vs-dust-specks sort of problem. Perhaps the solution to this problem is not, in aggregate, worse than the problem itself. I certainly hope so. But I must accept that this could be the case. Are people like me/my family member the risk society accepts in order to keep working at an acceptable rate of efficiency? Or, put another way – would society be better off if young-me/my family member were to choose suicide?

Obviously it’s not the case that current-me should choose suicide. But 15 years ago I didn’t have knowledge of the intervening 15 years. Given the information I had at the time – maybe suicide really was the correct choice, to minimize the risk of social cost. I do not think my family member should choose suicide. They can get better. But it’s possible that suicide may be the safest choice given enough knowledge of the actual percentages/risks.

So where does that leave me? I am not an advocate for putting down the mentally unstable. So am I pro-dust-specks after all? Or is there some sort of balance between the two I can strike?

  One Response to “Mitigating risk”

  1. This seems to implicitly assume that suicide is a free action. I don’t believe that is so. Indeed, I would tend to believe that treating people with depression is likely cheaper. But perhaps that’s more what I want to be true than what is.

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