Sunday, May 13, 2007

Seung-Hui Cho Explained

Virginia Tech graduated the Class of 2007 this past weekend. Degrees were awarded to both the survivors and the victims of the worst domestic killing spree in American history. Weeks after Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 innocents, people still can't understand why Cho went on his particular rampage. This is America and there must always be a reason for everything, especially the inexplicable.

Emil Guilliermo writing for Asia Week has the best and most honest explanation, I've read. Being an Asian himself and outside of the United States free of the political correctness that infects everything here, he can say what American journalists can't or won't. Guilliermo writes there were basically two reasons that Cho eventually killed. First, he was mentally ill and the Asian culture treats the condition as a myth, or the work of the devil requiring prayers. Admission of mental illness would bring greater shame to the family than the random murder of 32 innocent human beings. Second, the unwillingness, caused by political correctness, of university, legal, and medical personnel to attribute to anyone with any label even if that label can save the life of the mentally disturbed and the lives of 32 innocent human beings.

Incompetence All Around after VA Tech

Emil Guilliermo, May 11, 2007

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings at the hands of Seung-Hui Cho, I got an e-mail from a man who knows mental illness.

It’s not like one of those urban myth e-mails your sister sends you. It's real. But Asian Americans treat it like an urban myth.

It's the way many Asian Americans respond to mental illness.

They ignore it.

To protect the innocent, I won’t share names.

But I'm sure you've heard a variation of this story in your micro-communities.

It goes like this:

The man is white. His wife is Asian American, in this case a Korean immigrant. They have several children.

The family has been split apart by the wife's mental illness.

The man has sought help. But as is typical, a psychiatrist or a psychologist is the last person an Asian American family turns to in such matters.

More likely, the first person a family turns to is someone trusted, like a minister.

And then they start blaming loved ones for the situation.

Sure enough, the wife’s family becomes angry at the overall situation and goes into denial about their daughter’s possible mental ailment. They say it's the husband's fault. The stress from his high-powered job is the cause of her erratic behavior and her illogical acts that seem minor, but add up.

And all of it is accented with many doors slammed in anger.

The fact that one of the partners is non-Asian is the reason I heard about this particular story.

You can bet, however, if both partners were Asian American, immigrant or native born, you wouldn't see any willingness to share a shred of detail.

There’d be too much at stake involving not just the couple and their kids, but the entire extended family and its standing in the community.

The shame of mental illness seems to lead Asian American families in particular to a standard answer: silence.

And when it’s impossible to deny, they turn to anything but the right answers.


So it's no surprise to hear how the family of Seung-Hui Cho responded to his mental state years before the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech.

The family did nothing useful.

They contacted a minister.

The real surprise is the state did practically nothing as well.

Oh, they did a little bit. After police got a student tip that Cho had claimed he wanted to kill himself, Cho was sent to the New River Valley Community Services Board, the local state-run health clinic in Blacksburg.

There, as reported in the Washington Post, Cho was found to be "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization," as stated in court documents.

But that's not enough to be committed in the state of Virginia.

Cho was passed on to the Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Clinic in nearby Christiansburg, but just temporarily until Special Justice Paul M. Barnett determined Cho was an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness and ordered him into what is called "involuntary outpatient treatment."

If the bureaucracy hasn't driven you crazy already, this next piece of the puzzle will drive you insane.

"Involuntary outpatient treatment" means that the state essentially washes its hands of the matter and turns over the responsibility of any care —BACK TO THE DISTURBED PERSON.

The system puts the onus on the helpless person to get help.

"The system doesn't work well," said Tom Diggs, executive director of Virginia’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform to the Washington Post, which first reported the story this week.

Diggs' classic understatement symbolizes just how inadequately mental illness is dealt with by society.

It's enough to make one forgive the inadequacies of most Asian Americans in these situations.


Put yourself in Cho’s mom’s flip-flops.

Hyang In Cho, distressed over her son's behavior, blamed it, of course, on the devil.

She turned to her church, and not just one. The Rev. Dong Cheol Lee, the pastor of the One Mind Church in Woodbridge, a Washington, D.C. suburb in Virginia, was just the last in a string of churches she contacted to help her son.

"His problem needed to be solved by spiritual power," said Lee, to the Washington Post. "That’s why she came to our church — because we were helping several people like him."

Notice the significant absence of Freud, Adler or Jung. Of drugs. Of a Dr. Laura, even.

Notice the significant absence of treatment. Virginia left it up to Cho, who lived out his Travis Bickle fantasy in black, not camo.

And so now all the facts are out. It's been a month since the massacre. It may be time to understand that Cho wasn't the only incompetent in the story.

Let's also not be lulled into thinking that all is back to normal.

There are still many amongst us, my e-mail acquaintance for one, who live with mental illness every day.

For them, normal is maddening.

Mental illness is not shameful. It is an illness like influenza, pneumonia,or tuberculosis, or the common cold, and it can be treated. People do not need to die because of it, especially when those trained to recognize the symptoms do, in fact, recognize the symptoms, but do nothing of significance the alleviate the problem. Fear of labelling others is not an excuse for allowing an individual to suffer if their own private hell. Family shame should lie not in having a family member who is mentally ill, but in not seeking psychological help. Prayers helps the family; meds help the afflicted.

Asia Week

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Indigo Red said...

The green-nuts have their own take on mental illness.

"Banish your blues with a therapy that’s green

May 14 2007

by Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail

PEOPLE experiencing mental health problems should be “prescribed” outdoor walks and gardening, a report will today say.

A Mind report into the benefits of ecotherapy, or green therapy, argues that it should be used either in addition, or as an alternative to conventional drug or psychological therapy.

Ecotherapy includes such as activities as walks, gardening or conservation projects, exercise and even working on a farm."

If only Cho had taken walk in the park, the innocent people would still be alive and all he world would live in peace and harmony.

Wow. I'm not sure which is scarier, the mentally ill who give in the their own delusions or the sane among us who give in to the delusions of the ecofreaks.

djchuang said...

too true and too sad.. thanks for noticing how Asian culture was a major factor in this tragedy.. oh how we need a transformation of Asian cultures to be less stifled by shame-based and to be more grace-filled to bring about healing and wholeness to Asians needing help..

Indigo Red said...

Thank you, DJ Chuang. I had been hesitant to write about this aspect of the shootings because I'm not directly Asian. But, I wsa well aware of the social status that mental illness brings upon the family.

To have found an Asian author who wrote what I knew and then to have that validated by you is appreciated.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

I'd help validate what you wrote...but I'm basically a twinkie, having grown up in white middle American culture and not so much Asian-American.

Hilarious when I get accused of being a white Christian right-winger on blogs and internet forums, when I am neither white nor Christian.

Indigo Red said...

Well, that changes nearly everything, Wordsmith from Nantucket. My mental image isn't the Gorton's fisherman anymore. Now it's an Asian-American dressed up like the Gorton's fisherman hunched over a keypad. That's one of the wonderful things about the internet - we have our own videos of people in our heads complete divorced from reality. Yet, that created reality can at times be far more real and honest.

This was an article that got a lot of attention with much of that coming from Asia. I hope those have taken something away that can help the Asian view of mental illness.