Apparently, Tuesday is Mental Health Day in Canada. Mental Health is certainly worth thinking about. The U.S. still reels after Adam Lanza's shooting spree in December. In Canada, a coroner's inquest struggles to understand how deeply disturbed teen Ashley Smith could be allowed to commit suicide in prison while guards watched.
Â The young man with whom I've had closest contact is my grandson.
Â He's adopted, from Ethiopia. His mother died when he was three months old. He had a father, and four older siblings - two brothers, two sisters. But after his mother died, his family gave him up for adoption.
We suspect he was abused. For his first three years here, whenever he felt threatened, he withdrew into another world where he heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing.
Over about six months, while he should have been learning to talk, he was shuttled through four different homes and three different languages. Not surprisingly, he has been reluctant to learn ever since. He absorbs mechanical processes exceptionally well - but he resists learning letters and numbers.
He can be helpful, polite, and charming.
But he has an explosive temper. He slammed his bedroom door so hard he ripped it off its hinges. His school says that he punched a girl in line beside him, tried to strangle one schoolmate, and tried to drown another boy in a toilet.
Worse, these were not just emotional eruptions. These students had ridiculed him, or damaged something of his. He nursed a grudge against them. He waited for an opportunity to retaliate.
Did I hear you mutter the word "psychopath?"
Now consider this - he's still in kindergarten. According to his birth certificate, he's six years old.Â He might be seven - the Ethiopian village where he was born didn't bother much with paperwork.
There's still time to help him redirect his impulses. Various B.C. health services have offered help. But each professional area has focused only on a single facet of his behavior. No one seems willing, or able, to look at the whole child.
His elementary school has tried. Indeed, there are times when it seems the whole school is run around his needs. All the teachers know him; all shepherd him. The Grade 6 class has been organized to provide activities to keep him busy at recess and lunch.
But there are limits to what they can do. He's restricted to half days at school,
because he's considered dangerous to other students. In his classroom, scissors are kept locked up.
The psychiatrist assigned to him, from what I saw, made no attempt to engage our grandson in any way. His sole concern was a smorgasbord of medications.
The boy has been on so many different drugs for hyperactivity, anger, violence,
rebelliousness, and impulsivity that I doubt if anyone knows his real personality any more. Least of all, himself.
It's commonly assumed that children are a blank page, waiting to be imprinted with their parents' behaviour patterns. I deny that assumption. I'm biased, I admit. But I believe our daughter has been an exceptional parent - more caring, more compassionate, more patient than we were. She ran a successful consulting business for 15 years until her son's psychological needs took
Her other adopted child, a girl three years older, is growing into a delightful young woman - well adjusted, literate, socially skilled. Her home also includes a large dog and three cats, none suffering any signs of neglect or abuse.
I defy anyone to prove that our grandson's disturbed behavior derives from her parenting.
For five years, she has struggled to find people in social services who would take her concerns seriously.
With a few exceptions, they are too busy. They have reports to write. They already have full case loads. They're not taking any new patients.
Meanwhile, our grandson gets worse.
His sister is already afraid of his rages. His mother isn't - yet - but in few years he will be stronger than she is. Other children his age are starting to avoid him.
Unless he learns to control his energy, to channel it into useful outlets, he will be a
serious problem as he grows to physical maturity. He will get into trouble with the law - I hate to imagine how - and will be placed in contact with people who will teach him even less acceptable forms of violence.
Last year, each inmate in a federal prison cost Canadian taxpayers $113,974. Why must we wait to spend some of this money until a mentally disturbed young man harms his own or some other family? Wouldn't it make more sense to spend money now, to prevent him from ending up behind bars?
Prevention is always preferable to punishment.
His mental health is not just one family's problem. It's everyone's.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at