I wrote in the emotion of the moment last week, and missed some of the points I wanted to make. So the following is an edit…
Last Friday afternoon (December 14, 2012) I turned on the TV around 3:00 pm while eating a late lunch. The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that occurred that morning is just unthinkable. I will not reiterate the events as I’m sure you are undoubtedly aware. What I will talk about is the unbelievable prejudice in our culture against recognition and treatment of mental illness.
This young man, as all those that inflict unspeakable violence on another, obviously suffer from various mental illnesses. It’s a very tough topic, and I’m certainly no authority. But I will say that there seem to be road blocks to identifying and finding resources of help for those in need. If someone is afflicted with some form of mental illness, that individual is obviously not in a state of mind to recognize the need for help, nor sort out the complex possible avenues for medical treatment. How do we notice, listen, take action, and intervene to help those that suffer from mental illness, especially those that may pose a threat to others. There is no easy answer.
My family, just as most families, is not untouched by mental illness. My sister took her own life, three days after Christmas- this year it’s been seventeen years. My half sister died at forty-five of undisclosed but I suspect some similar circumstances. Sadly, there are others I have known that have died of some event, or series of events, related to the effects of mental illness or addiction. For my sister Jan, could I have done more than I did? Before her death, I didn’t think so. I had tried all sorts of avenues, and she had many mental health resources available to her and had undergone all sorts of treatment. After her death, all I felt was guilt. It’s only natural in hindsight, to second guess your actions if you lose someone close to suicide. The connection to mass murder… it is said that someone suicidal may also be homicidal.
Games, media, movies, and television are filling our minds, and more importantly, our children, with repeated violence and horrific concepts and scenes. Desensitization on all levels is the result. If you see and hear it once, twice, then three times, and on and on, it becomes seemingly ordinary and “normal.” There is no normal about it, and we can all make choices as to what we bring into our lives, and the lives of our children. I have chosen NO to violence!
How does a propensity to violence development? Is it the result of upbringing, genetics, or the cultural exposure I noted? No one knows, but mental illness is not some illusive condition to talk about behind someone’s back, or to look away when noticing someone in trouble, or to ignore even vague signs of a problem. Violence is simply unnatural. Alcoholism, drug addiction and abuse also play a major role in violent crime. I’d love to know the actual statistics as to how many violent crimes (or accidents) happen under the influence.
It seems we have become a culture of high stress, isolation, and extremes. The economy, making a living, and the basics of existence are for many just not easy to manage in this great country that defines the goal of life as the concept of “The American Dream.” Companies no longer respect their employees or their customers as humans and individuals with needs and desires just like their own. It’s clear we have stopped “seeing” one another, making it easier to define those outside our immediate circle with decreasing value, and to disregard them as human beings.
If I believe I’m different, my view or conviction is more right or important than yours, then I have forgotten our basic human sameness, connectedness, need for one another, and ultimately the elusive dependency we have on each other. As we each walk this life with our separate and conflicting agendas, we create deeper isolation and hate that fuels our separation. This exists on an individual as well as collective level, creating a greater capacity for violence in either blatant or more subtle manifestations. Companies have created unprecedented economic hardships for the sake of stock reports, individual and corporate greed. Our environment, food, and water supply is being compromised and even destroyed at an increasingly alarming pace. Our government and social programs, although well intentioned, have all but taken this country to the verge of bankruptcy.
As individuals, many feel powerless and are impacted in the most disturbing ways. A few reach the brink of desperation, and beyond… Do these stresses produce mental illness? I believe they undoubtedly play a part. There are obviously other conditions that produce mental illness, many purely biological. More important than the causes of mental illness is the need for reform of our health care to create a system that promotes education and facilitates access to affordable care for patients, and for those concerned with the welfare of another.
In a medical report on NBC 12 by Nancy Snyderman, December 17, 2012, I loosely quote her words describing an anonymous parent frustrated by privacy and other road blocks to obtain help for his adult child: “It’s easier to get an assault weapon than it is to get treatment for mental illness, and that’s just wrong.”
But what can I, or you, do? Where or how as an individual, and as a culture, can we, or do we do make difference? We can start…
I propose we begin to look at each other, smile, reach out, show compassion, and seek out ways to be of help instead of looking the other way. Is it comfortable? In a word, no! Is what happened on Friday, December 14, 2012 acceptable, NO! Change begins with me, and I challenge myself just as I challenge you. To repeat a phrase, be the change you’d like to see in the world! Imagine how the world can change if you and I do! To further empower your voice, contact your elected officials to support changes in legislation reducing prejudice and promoting health care for those suffering from mental illness.
Please pray for the children in Newtown, Connecticut, and their families. Innocence lost… by those that have left us, and all those that are left behind…
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