On Greece and Mental Health

One marker of a country’s civility is how it treats its criminals and its mentally ill. I realized that Greece is 50+ years behind America in these respects today.

Like something out of Yates, here I was in the inanity of urban quasi-splendor, eating dolmades off china with three old women, while a severely delayed 30-year old watched dubbed Warner Brothers cartoons in the corner. With the brain function of a 3-year old, it was difficult for her to articulate what she wanted. She knew better, yelping occasionally for food or water, and being shushed by her mother, this left her incapable of asking for something more. Having fallen asleep, she was awakened by the volume of one of the Greek woman’s conversation. Round after round of “Eeehhhhhgh Eeehhhhhgh” issued forth, to be met with “Be Quiet Already!” each time. I sat in stunned silence, wide-eyed, as big as two-euro coins.

“Maybe she wants something else to eat? Or maybe she’s bored?” I asked politely after a couple of rounds of this.

“Yaey-sün, she don’t know up from down.”

“I beg to differ. She likely knows exactly what she wants, its just that she doesn’t have the linguistic tools to say it. That’s why toddlers cry so much. They know what they want, but they also know they don’t have the words to say it. You know, tension. Frustration.”

A long deep animal wail came from the woman’s mouth, resonant and earsplitting, like a gurgling human tornado siren.

In outer space, it is often said, nobody can hear you scream, on account of the vacuum. In the deep inner space of this woman, screams reverberated, echoing within some chamber, though remained unheard not because of vacuum but enormous crushing pressure. Her wail decayed to sobs, one after another. She threw her hands out and flexed their tiny muscles. Fingers spread wide and stiff. She started talking in Greek, and the room fell silent. Her mother dropped her fork.

“Take me God! Help. Help. Help.”

“She never said that before,” the woman’s mother said between her own sobs. “I never knew she knew the word ‘God’.”


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