Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Mental Health Tragedy Revisited

On December 11 I did a post on the tragic story in which Marci Thibault, in a state of psychosis, took actions that led to her death and the death of her twin sister's two children.

Marci's sister and brother-in-law have a letter in today's Boston Globe. I quote it in full. It has a lot to teach us about tragedy, ethics and heroism:
Family coping with tragedy responds to its critics
December 31, 2008

WE ARE the parents whose two children were killed last January in traffic along with their mentally ill aunt. After being made aware of numerous online and in-print reader comments that were less than gracious, we wanted to clarify a few points and add to our public statements. Note that there is no pending lawsuit, and we are unsure whether there will be one. If there is ever one, and if there is any monetary judgment, proceeds would go directly toward the goals of our nonprofit, Keep Sound Minds.

We started this organization to improve awareness and education about mental illness to hopefully prevent another tragedy such as the one that befell our family. We will not personally profit as a result of this tragedy or any potential lawsuit.

An article was written about our story ("Finding words at last for an unspeakable loss," Dec. 7), and it seems many people are quick to crucify us as parents and people. We realized that was a possibility when we opened up to the public. That is unfortunate, but in our minds, the greater good of shining light on mental health issues far outweighs receiving backlash from people who don't know us.

We are similar to most of the readers of your paper. We loved and cared about our children deeply. They meant the world to us. If we believed Kaleigh and Shane would be in any danger that night, we never would have let them go. While we had some understanding of mental illness, we learned through the most painful way possible that we did not know everything. Our goal of Keep Sound Minds is to provide the public with better tools and knowledge to protect further innocent lives from being lost as a result of mental illness.

We pray that none of your readers will have to go through a similar tragedy, and we hope that people would be more understanding of the complexities of our case instead of immediately judging us as careless, self-centered people.

Ken and Danielle Lambert
Brentwood, N.H.
My first reactions to the letter were pain about the Lambert's suffering and fear that I might inadvertently have written something that added to their distress. On re-reading the December 11 post I was relieved to see that I had been very clear about my view of their conduct, as in the final sentence - "Danielle and Ken Lambert deserve admiration and respect for their efforts to transform private grief into public altruism."

In their letter to the Globe Danielle and Ken continue to teach us, this time about advocacy. For every tragic story like Danielle and Ken's, in which a normal appearing but deeply ill person like Danielle's sister Marci takes actions leading to terrible consequences, there are 10,000 stories about unjustified discrimination against people with a history of mental illness. And even if there is no simple guidance for police who are called to make evaluations of odd behavior, as happened when Marci was on her way to Danielle and Ken's home, the story they allowed the public to learn about will be used for police education all around the country.

If there's an award for ethical advocacy in mental health, I nominate Danielle and Ken Lambert!

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