My plan was to write a light, upbeat post this week. Something to distract from the ever present doom and gloom of the media. You’re probably thinking Great! I need something uplifting! Well, I may disappoint you. There’s a topic that won’t leave my thoughts.
The latest shooting spree in South Carolina, 9 people killed during a bible study, raised my consciousness of our reaction to mental illness. I agree with the reports that this was a racially motivated hate crime. Race relations are taking an ugly turn for worse in our country–something we must address.
Here’s what keeps coming to mind. The Emanuel AME church shooting is as much about our response to mental illness as it is about race. The suspect, Dylann Roof, as well as Adam Lanza: Sandy Hook Elementary School, James Holmes: Colorado movie theater and others, had histories of either suspected or diagnosed mental illness. Was enough done to address their illness? Clearly not and if it were would lives have been spared?
Addressing the many afflictions that fall under the umbrella of mental illness is far beyond what I’m qualified to discuss but I do believe there’s something we can do.
Two thoughts are both related to how we react to mental illness. The first is our reaction to anyone in treatment for a psychiatric disorder. There’s a stigma that needs to change. Our response to learning a person has been hospitalized for a mental illness should mimic our response when we learn someone has a physical illness. Both deserve to be treated with the same compassion and understanding.
The second is our response when we fear someone is unstable and capable of harm. He’s crazy; I’m staying away from him. Or Someday we’re going to read this kid’s name in the police blotter are statements we’ve all heard or even said ourselves. The typical reaction is to turn our backs.
If we suspect someone is troubled and a potential danger to themselves or others we must step in and do something–talk to their loved ones, doctor, counselor or other professional. If the concerns persist the police should be notified.
I may not have great answers but I do know we can’t continue what we are doing: recognizing a problem and turning our backs. That is not the answer because while our backs are turned another senseless massacre may be taking place.
Medical professionals, law enforcement and politicians all have a role in ending these acts of violence but I also believe small, individual steps can lead to bigger change. The first step individuals can take is to change the perception. Mental illness is a disease that deserves serious attention, medical intervention and compassion. The second step is to take responsibility and report suspicious and potentially violent behavior.
Motivational speaker, Denis Waitley said:
“There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”
Let’s all do something to change the perception of mental illness, treat those afflicted with compassion and report those who exhibit signs of violent behavior. It’s better than doing nothing. Roberta