A few days ago, a New York City man, who, so far as I can tell has merely been described as "emotionally-disturbed" decided it would be a great idea to leap 17 feet from a moving monorail at the Bronx Zoo, and take a header into the tiger exhibit.
Predictably, David Villalobos, aged 25, found the experience less than thrilling, for he was not only injured by his fall, he had salt rubbed into his wounds when one of the big cats decided to take a few bites out his ass.
Villalobos was rescued when zookeepers, utilizing fire extinguishers (what? No guns? What kind of zoo doesn't have a gun around when you need one?) managed to drive the cat away, and then cage the entire pride of tigers so as to allow emergency personnel to save Mr. Meow Mix from himself. Various reports say that Villalobos has suffered a punctured lung, a shredded leg, and it isn't clear as to whether or not one of his feet has been chewed off or not.
This -- someone deliberately entering a dangerous animals' pen in an area zoo, and subsequently finding out just why they're called 'predators' -- isn't a first for New Yorkers. Back in 1987, two young boys sneaked into the polar bear enclosure at the Prospect Park Zoo in the dead of night, with the results one might imagine: in went two kids, out came one child and one pile of polar bear turds with a pair of Keds stuck in them.
And to give you some idea of how unsympathetic New Yorkers can be when it comes to someone more or less asking to get killed, regardless of age, a popular saying came into being right after that incident, as people began using the phrase "Do polar bears eat Puerto Ricans?" in response to a question with an obvious answer, in much the same way as one might use the old standards "Do bears shit in the woods?" or "Is the Pope Catholic?".
If David Villalobos believes he's going to receive any sympathy for a) doing some incredibly crazy that almost guaranteed death, and b) for surviving and no doubt becoming a ward of the state afterwards (no doubt the lawsuit and the disability claim paperwork are already in progress), and c) for being a disturbed person in a society that regards mental illness with more fear and loathing than it does AIDS, Ebola, or Malaria, he's got another thing coming.
Now, according to the zookeepers, the tiger did nothing wrong. It was just being a tiger, in much the same way that Barack Obama refuses to believe that Muslims are just being Muslims when the murder and then ass rape an American ambassador before dragging his dead body through the streets. The tiger was simply obeying an instinctive impulse, and will not be destroyed. Fair enough.
But what about David Villalobos? Because if there's anything I can't stand (other than liberal democrats) it's the fact that there are obviously emotionally-disturbed and mentally ill people running around doing things like this because they either can't get help, or because the help they do get is entirely ineffective. And I'm certain we're going to find out that Villalobos has probably been in contact with at least one mental health professional. People who do things like this almost always are.
Obviously, a man who jumps from a moving monorail into a tiger cage is probably trying to commit suicide, a fact the police have already established. I guess in the grand scheme of things, trying to do yourself in this way, rather than hoping for the typical "suicide by cop" while you shoot up a movie theater, or try to assassinate a backbench Congresscritter at a supermarket, is probably better, if only because there are fewer people potentially caught in the crossfire (although I feel sorry for the zookeepers who were put in jeopardy). Police also say that Villalobos' Facebook page and computer were full of pictures and videos of predatory cats, so there's obviously some form of obsessive behavior here.
One is left to wonder what sort of mental health assistance, if any, Villalobos was receiving. Was it the lazy sort that seems to be prevalent in American medicine these days, in which a psychiatrist proscribes a load of half-useless anti-depressants (all with side-effects that are, often worse than the malady they're intended to treat) and hopes for the best? Or was he just one of those people who got the very best available, who just fell through the cracks? Or, most likely, was he just one of those people that no one seems to give a shit about, even though they know he's crazier than a bedbug, deciding that it's easier to let this potential time bomb go off someplace where you hopefully aren't, than to do the human and decent thing and just ask the simple question:
Are you okay?
I'm not an expert on mental health (I don't have the diplomas, you see), although my experience as a patient with the mental health regime in this country should qualify me as one, for certain. We shake our heads at the David Villalobos' of the world, just as we did with the Jared Lee Loughners, the "Crazy Pat" Sherrils, James J. Lee's, and the Seung-Hi Cho's, but there is one major difference between them all; at least Villalobos was only trying to take himself out,and we're fortunate in that regard. What makes all of them similar, however, is that all were known dangers to the community before they went off, and all were failed miserably by the mental health system and public safety authorities. We're about to find out, I'll wager, that so was Villalobos.
The real healthcare crisis in America, despite what any politician will tell you, is not that we're not paying for an inner-city kids' asthma, an illegal alien's breast implants, or a heart-lung transplant for someone too old and in poor health to make the procedure cost-effective, it's that the resources we spend are often entirely misdirected, and tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans are walking around with treatable mental illnesses that medical insurance won't cover, the medical profession treats as something that can be papered over with drugs, and which society regards with horror, and refuses to speak about.
More people are apt to have sympathy for drug addicts and AIDS victims, who by-and-large made themselves pathetically sick, than they are for schizophrenics, who can't help themselves, and who often require hospitalization just for their own (and our safety). The stigma involved in mental illness and treatment is often a bigger factor in one of these guys going off than is the disorder or disease itself, and this, often, prevents people from finding help when they can get it. After all, who wants to admit that they're crazy to someone else? It's hard enough to admit it to yourself, most days.
Every time we hear of something like this, people laugh it up, and think this just some isolated incident of a nutjob going off the deep end, and good riddance, but it isn't, It is a serious public health problem that needs attention. It's amazing that in the aftermath of such a spectacular suicide attempt, not one local official here in new York City has even mentioned the mental health angle on this story.