The title is from Carrolls’ ‘Alice In Wonderland’ but it rings true each and every day. We are not perfect people, everyone has a flaw or many.
Almost 49% of kids 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness, over 30% drop out of school, 70% of kids in the justice system have some type of mental illness. Adults, 1 in 5 experience a mental health illness in a given year (NAMI.org). In a given year. That includes the mom on your block that went through post-partum depression, or the kid across the street that has ADD, or you after you had a major transistion in your life and was feeling a little anxious, or couldn’t sleep. 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. Meaning it is ongoing like schizophrenia, PTSD or autism. With these numbers, chances are you or someone you know will fall into one or more of these categories.
The issue? Aside from the obvious lack of care, coverage, availability and ability to seek help is the stigma.
stig-ma, noun; a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.
When someone is having a crisis in this arena, and actually seek help, the wall that is placed in front of them is impenetrable. First, you are dealing with the fact that you can’t fix you. You are having to ask someone to help you. You feel foolish because your problems are small and unimportant in comparison to the rest of the world. Second is dealing with your insurance and finding a doctor. By law there are minimum standards across the country called ‘Parity Laws’. Of course there are exceptions and there are health plans that do not need to follow parity laws. Once you figure out who your insurance will allow you to see, how often, and many times a higher deductible than regular doctor visits, you need an appointment. Just like any specialty doctor, getting an appointment with a psychiatrist is defeating in itself. Many don’t take new patients, most you have to wait three months to get that first appointment. So, in a crisis, limited choices of doctors, expensive and you have to wait three months, and you better not tell ANYONE. Because of the stigma.
We have this need to categorize everyone and everything, it just can be. Yesterday in Florida was tragic, horrific and completely unnecessary. The media just continued on their need to answer why and who. Many times the why is never fully discovered because the assailant took their own life or suicide by cop. We have the occasional time when the perpetrator survives. Yet regardless of any of that, the initial reports, speculations and interviews will put the mass murderers into one of two categories because it makes them feel better. They are either terrorists or mentally ill. This needs to stop. Sometimes why is never answered. You can buy 1000 pounds of fertilizer or 10 rifles in this country easier than you can buy a decongestant. That is your why.
Every time a shooting occurs and it happens to be a white person, it’s the easy answer to say, “They had a history of mental illness”. What history, what illness? Did they have ADD? Anxiety? Or are you just going to throw that out there so ALL mental illnesses can be put under this violent umbrella?
This is why you don’t tell your friends. This is why you don’t say anything at work. This is why people don’t seek help. This is why suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens.
The issue with these shootings isn’t the illness, or that we don’t have adequate care or services, or that it’s like a rat maze to get help. It’s the guns, plain and simple. Don’t get me wrong, the mental health system in this country needs some serious revamping, it needs to be ok to have a mental illness, it needs to be seen as an illness and not just feelings and hearing voices. There is brain chemistry going on that is physically not working correctly. We have veterans from two non-stop wars that are coming home with some serious trauma, physically and mentally. Instead of just giving them an oxy for their pain and send them on their way, each and every one of them need to have easy and simple access to the help they need.
Mental illness is not an American thing. We don’t have all of the mad people in this country. All countries have people that suffer from this illness. So why don’t they have 17 kids dead today, or 600 wounded in their tourist hot spot, or 18 other school shootings that have already happened this year? Guns and healthcare.
The second amendment was truly written to allow states to raise an army of untrained citizens to protect that state from a hostile government. That is what a militia is. In Texas, two militia were formed in the 1800’s and remain to this day, the National Guard and the Texas Rangers. To have a gun to protect is one thing, having your own military style stock pile is another. Every law enforcement organization, combat unit and guard are trained, tested and their guns liscenced. There is no possible situation that I can imagine that would justify having a rapid fire weapon as a civilian. There is no reason you can’t register the guns you purchase, that you must get a background check or that you must wait seven days. No one wants to ‘take your guns’ but we do want to feel safe in our homes, schools and public places. Your gun rights end when my safety, security and happiness ends.
So I came at this from two sides. Journalism needs to stop categorizing these acts and just report the actual facts. Just because someone suffered from depression is not necessarily the reason they decided to pick up a gun and kill his classmates and teachers. It’s counterproductive in addressing mental illness and will keep the next person from asking for help. The real issue is access to the guns. Common sense legislation needs to be passed, the NRA needs to stay off the hill and out of politicians pockets. After all, only about 5% of gun owners are affiliated with the NRA, which is a rather small portion of the population considering only about 33% of Americans even own a gun.