Last week another gun related tragedy occurred, this time in Washington State. A young man entered the cafeteria, brandished a weapon, and started shooting before turning it in himself. His actions led to several injuries and three deaths (including his own).
Afterwards, reports focused on how well liked the young man was but that he had seemingly been under some emotional duress recently according to his Twitter feed. Well, no shit! Top notch reporting there.
People who are feeling good about life, about themselves and their personal situations, do NOT start a shooting spree at school that leads to their death. People who are emotionally stable and chemically balanced in their brain simply don’t do things like this.
Instead, it’s rather obvious that this young man was suffering. From what, we don’t know exactly. We likely will never know for sure.
With a national election only days away this event will of course lead to yet another discussion about the Second Amendment. Some will ardently defend it while others will point to this as further proof that firearms restrictions must be tightened.
The conversations that won’t be taking place enough though are those centered around mental health in our nation. There are a few reasons for this and every single one is beyond stupid.
- Guns are “news sexy”, mental health is not: The topic of guns can produce heated debates and terrific sound bites – perfect for the 24 hour news channels and the constantly updating Internet media. Mental health doesn’t provide either of those. Conversations about mental health are long and drawn out. True discussions require experts rather than Joe Schmo Congressman. You won’t really see people yelling over one another when talking about mental health (that would be some interesting irony, huh?).
- Guns are a political hot-button, mental health is not: Candidates and Political Groups can raise gobs of cash off of the gun issue (both pro and con). Firearms are seemingly a part of what makes America…America. They are romanticized and criticized, saviors and reapers. Mental health though is new, it’s rather undefined. It does not generate cash in political realms to anywhere near the degree that guns do. It doesn’t evoke passionate responses from the masses like guns do. Much like above, the issue of mental health isn’t “sexy”, it just exists.
- Mental health is taboo: There is a stigma surrounding mental health. It’s not like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and the like. Those diseases, like other diseases of the body, can be analyzed through tests and machines and visual evidence. Mental health does not have that luxury. It relies upon people relaying how they feel and accurately relaying those concerns to a qualified professional. It’s difficult for a doctor to simply view one’s brain and say “Oh, it looks like you have depression”. In addition to that, there is a perceived shame in mental health that does not exist when it comes to diseases of the body.. If someone thinks they have cancer, or heart problems, or digestive problems, etc…they go to a doctor and discuss their concerns because those things “just happen”. In mental health, people are afraid to do that because it is their problem and a result of their actions. Additionally, they feel that it shows weakness in their ability to “handle the situation” or that “well, if I just take a vacation/break/rest then everything will be better”. Sometimes that works…but a lot of times it doesn’t. And those same people still may feel a shame associated with their problem afterward. Going to a doctor for a body illness is often reactive but going to see someone about a mental health issue takes courage.
- Mental health can be mistreated: To go along with the above, the simple fact that a lot of mental health treatments rely upon the patient relaying to the professional how they feel. Like most medical treatments, it is reactive. However, unlike most, it is difficult for the treating physician to see the results. Heart attack? We open you up, see the problem, go in and fix it, and then monitor the results for a while. Cancer” We try to remove as much as possible through surgery and then get the rest through chemo/radiation/etc, then we monitor in a way where we can clearly see if the treatments are working. With mental health, that just doesn’t happen. It is primarily based upon conversations – and sometimes the whole truth does not come out in those conversations.
- Mental health can be misdiagnosed: Again, to continue with the above, with mental health treatment relying so much on conversations rather than diagnostic tests and measurements, it can be easily misdiagnosed. What one doctor hears could be different from what another does. The way a general practitioner approaches a problem can be different from a mental health specialist. Furthermore, if a GP thinks you have major issue with a body disease or illness, they send you to a specialist…but when you have a mental disease or illness they often give you a prescription and send you on your way, just as if you had a strep throat or other minor illness. The problem is, mental illness is NOT minor.
Our approach towards mental health should be greater than just a reaction to the traumatic events that cause political uproar though. Each and every day, numerous Americans are abused or neglected because of issues related to mental health. People go through their lives in misery because they are too afraid to seek treatment for their illness. So much money is devoted towards diseases of the body while the mind, the most precious of organs, is seemingly ignored. Suicide is a very real problem in our society. Spousal and child abuse exists in every town in America. Sexual abuse seems to be everywhere, even in the places where people should feel their safest (homes, schools, churches). Yet, little is done. We keep harping on guns when they don’t actually cause any of these. They are just tools that those who are dealing with mental issues employ. But yes, lets keep attacking and defending guns while we ignore the actual issue…because scoring political points is vastly more important than actually helping the people of the United States.
In our nation’s Declaration of Independence, it is written that our citizens “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Don’t we owe it to them to increase our attention on, and enhance our approach, to mental health? By increasing the ability to pursue Happiness, wouldn’t we also be preserving the right of Life for countless Americans?