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Just how many chances did we have to avoid Cho’s day of terror? A youth psychiatric survivor speaks out on the issue.

A Hundred Billion Chances

Date Published:

Apr 30, 2007 03:00 AM

Author: Martin Rafferty, Youth Outreach Coordinator

Source: MindFreedom International

Martin S. RaffertyA twenty-year-old youth survivor of the mental health care system speaks out about the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Sometimes the reality of a situation is to simple to understand that it is ignored. The most recent school shooting is not a complex story. You have seen the pictures that he took and sent in, he showed himself with guns, hammers and knifes.  

Although those pictures frightened me because I realized that those weapons that he was showing us, were weapons that he used. The most tragic things about those photos are the fact that I saw something so familiar in his eyes. Something that I remember quite well, he had a glimpse of hope. As you may see this student as a killer, I see him as a youth who was drugged, and left alone in a world of poverty and failure. I do believe that suicide was always the ending in his plan, and that is where the hope came from. He knew that the end was coming, and he felt relieved.

When I was a youth I myself was forced onto medication that turned me into a walking zombie. The drugs did what they were supposed to do. They were made to completely numb me. After my short stay in zombie land, I found a way to stop taking them. I would tape each pill under the paper cup the nurse gave me. As she carefully supervised me to force the medication on me, I used my wits to throw the cup and pill away.

After those few months on the pills I lost something. I lost part of who I was, and I will never get that back. Sometimes close friends tease me, they say that I treat life like a game. That I always see everything as a challenge. That I am never relaxed. It is true, and while having your brain be on over drive every second may sound like a blessing it is for me a curse. I can never be happy with holding a girls hand. Or watching a movie. I am always focused on what the next move is. This makes relaxing a task, and rest only comes with the help of teas and white noise. If I lost such a large part of me because of a few months, what did the mental health care do to Cho?

“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today,” wrote 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho.

The above statement hurts, because we don’t want to give Cho any kind of validation. Even in his grave we judge him. The truth is, he is right. He gave us every warning we needed, and the mental health care system did everything in their power to help him (which was a bunch of pills and if he was lucky a weekly meeting with a stranger). Does that sound ridicules? Our mental health care system does not work well, and cases like Cho make this painfully apparently.

Sometimes the reality of a situation is so simple, that we have to make it complex in order to avoid action (so we can stay comfortable). So let me try and clarify what happened. Cho asked for help, and the mental health care system failed him. The mental health care system does not work. Change needs to happen, you need to do it now.


Martin Rafferty, the MindFreedom Youth Outreach Coordinator, is also Office Manager at the MindFreedom Eugene, Oregon, USA office. You may contact Martin there at office (at) mindfreedom (dot) org.