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Mental Help

September 30, 1988

Oct. 2-8 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Too often we pretend that mental illness--just like the homeless, just like the elderly, just like latchkey kids, just like teen-age runaways--doesn't really exist.

While you're reading this, some person in your neighborhood wishes he were dead; some person in your town is thinking about killing herself; some person in your city is figuring out how to do it; some person in your state is selecting the gun, pills, knife, or roof that he'll use; and some person in this country just did it. Perhaps the anguish of that person is ended, but it has not yet begun for those around him.

The personal anguish and pain of the mentally ill and their friends and relatives won't make the sports, business, or entertainment sections of the paper: In our society, these are thoroughly unnewsworthy events. A famous philosopher once said, "The measure of a civilization is how it treats those who have hurt it." Perhaps a more updated version might read, "The measure of a civilization is how it treats those who, through physical or mental illness or economic hardship, are hurting in it."

Just how civilized are we?

MARK S. GOULSTON

Los Angeles

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