Studies show that 15 million Americans suffer from depression, this year alone, and that 3.2 million Americans also suffer from a disorder called schizophrenia; these numbers are rapidly rising, along with fatal incidents induced by people who haven’t gotten proper help for mental illness.
It’s easy to think it can’t happen here, it won’t happen to me, my friends or anyone in my family. It’s even easier to believe that mental illness isn’t real and people are faking it. But what happens if everyone just keeps denying mental illness? What happens to those who suffer, and even the community around them?
June 24, 2009, happens.
On that day 27 year old Mark Becker, suffering severely from mental illnesses, shot and killed coach Ed Thomas in small-town Parkersburg, Iowa. It was only after he was convicted and sent to prison that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
But sure, let’s keep denying people suffer from mental illnesses.
“Mark’s intent that day? He believed that God was telling him to take the life of Ed Thomas, myself and Dave. Because he thought we were poisoning people in the community. He felt and believed with his whole mind and heart that this was something he was doing for the betterment of the community. There’s no doubt in my husband and I’s mind that Mark was insane at this time,” Joan Becker, the mother of Mark Becker, speaks out about that day and her son’s actions.
Joan Becker has been speaking publicly about Mark and his illness for 8 years. She believes it is her duty to raise awareness about mental illnesses like her son’s that way incidents, like what happened on June 24, can be avoided in the future.
She explains he suffered from hearing voices and they made him delusional. She explains what went through his head that day he shot coach Thomas.
“He believed that Ed was sending goons to hurt Mark. He believed that Ed was ordering them to hurt him; he really believed he was being attacked. Never, ever, ever did he ever talk about killing anyone other than himself… There’s many who say that Satan tried to attack us through our son,” she begins.
Joan reflects on raising Mark.
“When I look back, I wonder why. When you’ve got everything going for you, out for sports, band, vocal, a good job, he was a leader amongst his ears… Why, we have always wondered, did he does this? But now, we know that we should have gotten individual and family counseling. Now we know he was losing the ability to recognize the reality between the voices in his head,” Joan said. “Mark told me that ever since he remembered existing, the voices have always been there and scared him. I cried when he told me that; it really hurts me to know that he cried himself to sleep because of the voices.”
She said that the patterns started to develop when he enrolled in college and dropped out three separate times. She explains things were getting worse when Mark kept having frequent mental episodes.
“I never felt like he was going to do anything really bad, it’s just he got so physical during those mental episodes. He looked different, his voice was different, he was acting so different during these episodes it just felt like a loose cannon,” she said.
She tried to get Mark help repeatedly, but explained that she kept getting denied; Mark kept getting denied help.
“It shouldn’t have taken prison to get our son the help he needs, but it did. We have used the jails to stabilize our mentally ill for way too long,” Joan said.
Since being in prison, Joan tells about how Mark is doing immensely better with receiving treatment.
“They’ve been really working hard with him, but he’s doing well. He’s down to one medication and he started out with four. He read a book by a psychiatrist that had paranoid schizophrenia. After reading that book he finally realized and admitted that he had a brain disease. Now he recognizes the voices in his head and that they’re not real,” she said.
Throughout the whole 8 years of speaking, she expressed that it’s been a journey and process at the same time. But, Joan said she has reached peace with what happened and it drives her to help others that, too, suffer much like Mark had all his life.
“It’s hard for me to explain the strength that it gives me, being able to explain my son’s story… We have nothing to lose by sharing our story,” she said.