By Josh Heath ‘’Remember to smile; don’t be afraid to do something goofy, and remember the consequences of those actions; ask for help when you need it; ask for help if you think your friends need it; if you don’t know what to do, be quirky; be happy; be smart.’’
These were the words spoken by Angela Adamek as she stood by the casket of her dead son, Christian, last month.
The trouble for Christian Adamek, aged 15, started when he ran afoul of the administration at his high school after streaking at the Friday Night Football game.
After being congratulated by friends and branded the legend of his high school, Christian was brought into the office of the principal, who promptly laid down his punishment – immediate expulsion and a recommended court hearing in regard to formal criminal charges. Two days later, his mother found him hanging in his room.
Instinctively, national news outlets laid the blame for the boy’s death at the hands of the principal, Michael Campbell. Social justice blogs re-ignited the long standing debate over zero tolerance policies in education. Hollywood heavyweight Judd Apatow even got into the act, calling for the principal’s resignation over twitter.
Then, on October 22, Daniel Adamek, the boy’s father, held a news conference. His voice cracking, he announced to a room full of packed reporters the real reason behind his son’s death – the inability to find proper medical care for the boy’s mental illness.
For some mad reason, after this revelation the story faded. It went from being international news covered in The Daily Mail and International Business Times pre-news conference, to a story buried onto online blogs post-news conference.
What could the reason for this be? I believe the answer lies in the first headline that comes up after you Google ‘’Christian Adamek’’: Twitter Poster, Others, Call for Apology to Principal in Christian Adamek Case. That’s right, an apology for the principal.
It is as if, somehow, the role of mental illness tempered the tragedy as a whole, not in its aspects of sadness, but in our ability to contextualize it into our collective psyche.
That is, when put to the tests of logic, maddening in its ignorance. A boy was born a certain way and the way he was born led to his death. It was the same for Emmitt Till.
Nearly one in five children in this country suffer from some form of mental illness. The reason for that statistic is disputed by experts; some blame the lead in the air, others an increase in drug use. What is certain, however, is that the population is growing, and much like poverty in this country, becoming too large to stigmatize.
If the mainstream media did its due diligence, they would have drawn the connection between the Adamek tragedy and the current health care fight in Congress.
The Affordable Care Act, if left into law, will hereby make it illegal for insurers not to provide mental health treatment to consumers. Additionally, no longer would an insurance company be allowed to quote someone a higher rate or deny them coverage simply for disclosing their mental health history. These reforms could have gotten Christian the care that was needed.
Rather than starting from this crucial premise and moving to concerns with the law, the media focused solely on the percentage of Americans who received insurance cancellation letters due to their plans’ failure to meet the ACA’s ‘’essential benefits.’’ Stories of folks who were paying $50 for the most basic care that ended up paying much more under Obamacare abounded; thus, inflaming the worst fears of the masses that the law would be nothing more than a big government mess. Which it still has the potential to be.
However, when you paint the solution to a problem, as the problem itself, too often the reason why the debacle began in the first place becomes tragically forgotten. Our greatest politicians always understood, that, no matter what the opinions of peppered middle aged men and women turned out to be, there were millions of children who had not yet been given the chance to make up their minds on the important issues of the day. That first and foremost any solution put forth must safeguard their ability to grow up and do so.
Decades of delay on the health care question has led to the pain of the Adamek family, as well as millions of others. As a country, it is our obligation to examine the evidence and figure out what it all really means.