Antisocial behavior has reached pandemic levels. Disruptive air passengers hit flight attendants. Thugs attack Asians, gays and other minority groups. Criminals have become more brazen as they bring violence to the streets and into American politics, as evidenced by the savage invasion of Capitol Hill on January 6.
Mental illness is clearly at the root of many of these disturbing trends, with cracks widening during the scourge of COVID-19. The pandemic deprived many in the community of personal interaction and, for those on the verge of mental depression, in-person mental health services they relied on or needed.
The American system of support for good mental health was never strong to begin with. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act helped expand coverage, but obtaining insurance to pay for treatment of serious psychiatric problems remains problematic.
And the need has grown. From March to October last year, hospital emergency rooms saw an increase in the number of patients seeking urgent psychiatric care, according to JAMA Psychiatry. The numbers were much lower during the same months of 2019, just before the pandemic hit. The crises ranged from suicide attempts to drug and opioid overdoses to partner and child abuse.
Last year, one-third of American adults exhibited symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the US Census Bureau. This was up from 11% in previous years.
Many insurgents on Capitol Hill had a history of mental illness and associated social dysfunction. We made fun of several.
Eric Munchel of Nashville, Tennessee, who brought restraints on his hands, legs and arms to Capitol Hill, has been dubbed the “tie guy.”
In fact, Munchel had been accused of assaulting a man and a woman in 2013. Recently dismissed from his job in a bar, he entered the Capitol costumed in paramilitary clothes, his mother by his side.
Sean McHugh of Auburn, Calif., Who attacked Capitol Hill police with a chemical spray, accused the police of “protecting pedophiles.” Turns out McHugh served time for rape of a 14-year-old girl.
Rosanne Boyland was initially thought to have been crushed to death in the vandal rush, but the medical examiner concluded that the Georgia resident had died of an amphetamine overdose. Boyland had a history of drug use, including one felony drug possession charge. The pandemic has cut off his in-person group meetings with drug addicts.
When you look at some of the creeps that had attacked Asians, you find something more than the usual racial animus. For example, the homeless man seen visibly stomping a 65-year-old woman of Filipino descent in New York City is black. He was on parole for killing his mother in front of his 5-year-old sister.
Another homeless man with 90 previous arrests has been accused of slashing a gay man. Both the criminal and the victim were Latinos.
You see the madness on the faces of airline passengers who are having temper tantrums demanding that they wear masks. Videos show the protesters, usually women, making loud and self-righteous positions for their right to break the rules. No matter how normal these disruptors dress, they give off the appearance of deranged.
The mission here is not to solve the lack of psychiatric services for those who are barely hanging on. Others can do it better. Rather, it is to note that fragile psyches often hide under the growth of appalling behavior. And a society plagued by the fraying of social ties will suffer more.
We now have a devilish mix of social isolation and extremist rhetoric that some use to lend an air of respectability to their delusions. Social services that control mentally unbalanced people need to be strengthened – and soon.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop.