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Mental Health Monday: Children in Cages

We are locking children in cages.

This isn’t the kind of thing that you can or ought to sugarcoat. You must be blunt, because this is a goddamn atrocity. We are ripping children from the hands of their parents and guardians at our nation’s southern border and locking them in cages.

Here’s a tweet shared by Senator Bernie Sanders containing a video released by the federal government showing children in cages. This is the video they are okay with us seeing. 

 

This is a human rights violation of unthinkable scope to sane people. Separating children from their families is a tactic that has throughout history been utilized by brutal regimes to strip people of their humanity. It was used by Canada and the US to decimate the culture of American Indian and First Nations peoples as we spread across the land we stole from them. It was used by Nazi Germany in concentration camps. It is in no uncertain terms the height of immorality and inhumanity.

Perhaps most troubling are the effects this forced separation and internment of children will have on their mental health—as well as physical and social health—and those effects will continue to hurt them and their families for generations. If you didn’t read it, the article I linked above was written by Yoka Verdoner. Yoka is a now-retired psychotherapist who, along with her two siblings, was sent into hiding by her family when Nazi German occupied the Netherlands in 1942.

As she quotes in the article, her brother has written about his experiences in a memoir. He says this about the intense separation anxiety he experienced and how it has effected his life to this day:

In the first home I scream for six weeks. Then I am moved to another family, and I stop screaming. I give up. Nothing around me is known to me. All those around me are strangers. I have no past. I have no future. I have no identity. I am nowhere. I am frozen in fear. It is the only emotion I possess now. As a three-year-old child, I believe that I must have made some terrible mistake to have caused my known world to disappear. I spend the rest of my life trying desperately not to make another mistake.

In seeking to understand her brother’s life further, Yoka states in the article that he—despite being charming and intelligent—was often anxious and dysfunctional, struggling to keep a job because of a fear of failure. Those issues were founded for her brother, and similar issues for herself and her sister, in separation and uncertainty, feelings we are now sowing in the minds of young people on our southern border.

This is a mental health crisis of our own heartless, thoughtless manufacture. It will persist for decades after we—hopefully very soon—end this practice. The thousands of children in cages will suffer into adulthood and their elder years. Their children and children’s children will hear the stories of that suffering. As Yoka Verdoner concludes in her article:

We can expect thousands of lives to be damaged, for many years or for ever, by “zero tolerance”. We can expect old men and women, decades from now, still suffering, still remembering, still writing in the present tense.

If you are American and want to do something to help stop this practice, contact your senator. A bill called the Keep Families Together Act is currently cosponsored by every sitting member of the Senate Democratic Caucus, but no Republicans have signed onto the bill. If you are not an American citizen, contact your legislative representative and ask them to put pressure on the United States government to end this practice, through your consular officials.

En Español para ciudadanos de otras naciones: contacte a su legislador. Pídales que presionan a los Estados Unidos para que dejen de colocar niños en jaulas.

As always…

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You can read more Mental Health Monday posts here.

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