Monday, February 05, 2007

The Shock, Grief, Panic and Guilt from the Other Side of a Tragedy

Severe mental illnesses can agonize in so many ways. The most direct manner is the impact on those who have them, but the scope can range far wider – to the families, others, and numerous critical components of our society.

Among the most heart-wrenching of anguish is that of families whose loved ones fall victim to the acute psychiatric disorder of another. We have painfully watched as families, such as those of Kendra Webdale, Laura Wilcox, and Gregory Katsnelson, bravely withstand the devastation of needless and unexpected loss. We have also been awed as members of these families have nobly turned their grief, not into revenge, but to bringing treatment to people incapacitated by illnesses like the one that ripped away their child, sibling or parent.

There is a flip side of these tragedies that rarely gets attention – the grievous turmoil of the families of the person who caused the harm, and did so only because of the symptoms of an illness that were neither asked for nor susceptible to self-control.

Imagine the turbulent mixture of shock, grief, panic and guilt experienced by the parents of Anthony Capozzi when their son, who has schizophrenia, was charged with two rapes in 1985 and later convicted of them. Was it the illness? Could his parents have prevented his actions? Something else? According to Albert Copozzi, Anthony’s father, "It is with you every moment …We don't go to bed at night without thinking about our son."

To put a twist on the Capozzis' distress that is hopeful yet also utterly confounding, imagine that – after 23 years of weekly eight-hour roundtrips to visit him in prison – Anthony Capozzi might not have done anything after all.

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