Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Personal Opinion

I want to take a minute to talk about mental health, and the stigmas associated with it.  Friday morning in Connecticut here in the US a twenty year old man walked into an elementary school and began to fire a gun.  He killed 27 people...including students as young as 6 years old.  All of the United States is grieving, and many are asking how and why this happened.  Although I don't understand it myself, what I do understand is that the man who did this was very ill.

Often when tragedies like this happen the news media creates a circus around the suspect.  They gather all the information that they can about them, plaster their picture on the television, talk to neighbors and family friends, and try and find out as much as they can about the individual.  Living in Colorado where several mass shootings have happened I have seen this circus first hand.

As I have mentioned before, I studied Psychology in school.  The Psychologist in me analyzes when something like this happens.  I look at mass shooters such as James Holmes (Aurora, CO theater shooter), Michael Carneal (Paducah, KY high school shooter), Adam Lanza (Newtown, CT elementary school shooter), and many others in a different way I believe because of my education.  I look at these individuals as extremely ill individuals, and although many would say that, I believe that they weren't just "crazy".

Often we view mental illness as being someone who is "crazy", who we want to stay away from because we are scared of them, and who we can do nothing to help.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  I honestly believe that many of the individuals who commit acts such as this have serious undiagnosed mental illnesses.  After the Aurora theater shooting it was reported that officials called James Holmes' mother, who when informed of what happened responded "you have the right person".  It was also reported that neighbors of Adam Lanza stated that he "wasn't well".  People knew that these individuals had problems, but they were either too afraid, or didn't know how, to do anything about it.

I'm not saying that every person that we see who seems a bit off in our minds is going to go out and go on a shooting rampage.  What I am saying is that if we saw someone on the street with blood on their leg, walking with a limp, and cringing in pain most of us wouldn't just walk by them like we didn't see them.  Mental illness is a legitimate medical condition, it truly isn't just "in someones head".  Chemicals in the brain aren't absorbed, or being produced, or being over produced.  Messages from the brain get mixed up, or don't get sent to the right place.  There is honestly something wrong, and if our fingers got cut off we'd ask a doctor to reattach them we wouldn't just say "oh they'll get better in time it'll be fine."

If you look at mass shootings from an analytical perspective I believe that you can see a trend beginning in the 2000's.  Young shooters, teenagers and individuals in their 20's, and who have suffered a major life trauma recently.  Things such as being dismissed from school, recent family trauma such as a parental divorce, and significant bullying to name a few.  These are high stress situations, things most of us would have a difficult time dealing with.  I don't believe these individuals who "snap" and go on a rampage though do know how to deal with these situations at all.  I believe that an entire generation hasn't been given the tools to cope with disappointment, struggle and difficulty.  I'm not saying the situations that triggered these individuals weren't stressful, I'm just saying I don't think they had the emotional tools to deal with the stress they were under.  We have to fix this!

Gun control has become a big topic in the US due to the mass shootings that have happened.  To be honest I don't believe that's the biggest issue to be addressed out of this.  Honestly I believe that we need to address our mental health stigmas more than gun control.  Don't misunderstand me, I still believe that we need to look at how easy it is to obtain weapons in the US, but if we get people the help that they need I believe they will be less likely to commit the acts that have become commonplace here.  School Psychologists, and social and emotional programs are being cut from schools.  Parents are doing less parenting and expecting schools and caretakers to give their children the emotional support they should be receiving from them.  And we are telling more and more people to just "buck up" and "pull themselves up by their boot straps".

The emotional and psychological stress individuals are under today are more than there ever have been before.  Teenagers and young adults realize in this economy finding employment is, and will be difficult.  Supporting themselves has become one of the most difficult things to do.  Fear of getting sick because they can't afford health insurance and can no longer be on their parents.  Having to chose between paying rent and eating.  Not being able to afford to continue education.  Fear of having a family of their own they will have to find a way to support.  There are all common fears now that weren't there twenty years ago.  The world is changing, but we haven't changed the way we support future generations.

To me gun control isn't the issue, and won't stop this epidemic we have here.  Although I would one day love to see a mental health evaluation become part of the application process to obtain a gun, I don't believe it will happen.  The biggest issue American's need to take from these events in my eyes is the fact that we need to change mental health stigmas.  Get people the help that they need, and the tools that they need.  We need to stop being afraid of people who "scare" us because they may have a mental disorder, and rather pick them up and help them.

The mental health field needs to change too.  There are major differences between Counselors, Therapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrist's.  Each one is equipped to help people in different ways, based on different needs.  Someone who needs to be medicated due to Multiple Personality Disorder a counselor isn't equipped to treat.  Recognize, maybe, but not treat.  The American Psychological Association enabling providers to have any diagnosis on a sliding scale in their new diagnostic manual only creates more fear about mental health.  They are allowing providers to say everyone can have a little bit of every condition.  The mental health field needs to be overhauled in order to help people get rid of the stigma associated with it.

These are my own personal opinions, and some may agree with me, and some may not.  I'm all right with that.  The fact is that I believe everyone knows something has to change here in the US to stop these events from happening.  Although we may not agree with what has to change, we can agree that change has to happen.  Please help and support change that does happen.  America needs to come together more than ever, and not have issues and changes happening pull us further apart.

My heart goes out to all those affected by any massacre that has happened.  No one should ever have to go through the pain of losing a loved one in a violent act. <3

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