I, like everyone am saddened by the recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary; in fact ‘saddened’ seems to be an atrociously inappropriate word. It goes so far beyond that; in fact beyond comprehension to most.
As a parent, it has reached a different level – a level that until having children, is likely attainable. But in the aftermath I like many, are trying to resolve the events that this troubled boy felt compelled to force upon that small community and the world. I have none and am certain that none is available – at least none sufficient to provide any cognizant reason.
But the conversations have begun about things like gun control, security measures and even mental illness. And as usual, I am compelled to comment and attempt in some small way to find any benefit or lesson in madness.
I for one, cannot comprehend a world in which all elementary schools are patrolled by police – so that’s not a solution I can fathom. I also was raised in a family in which we hunted for food. I no longer have this desire but I certainly have no pretense of belief that elimination of guns is the answer either.
No, the only thing I can contemplate addressing is the issue of mental illness; more specifically, the views and opinions our society places upon it. I believe this is where we must start.
We live in a society that now accepts many more things than ever before – racial tolerance is improving, sexual tolerance is gaining and there are many other improvements. Heck, understanding drug addiction is even more at the forefront than ever before. In fact, it seems much of Hollywood has made going to rehab almost ‘en vogue’.
But still the ‘mentally ill’ are shunned.
I am by no means a clinician on the subject but I have had significant experience with it touching those I love and the impact it can create on a much smaller scale; to the individual, family and lives of those around the individual who suffers from an illness that they neither sought nor desired. I’ve also personally seen how people react and understand why people and parents want to avoid a child, friend or loved one being labeled as ‘mentally ill’.
Please understand – certainly, there are those who are beyond help – this young boy obviously passed that stage on the way to becoming a monster. He and many others before him have sealed their fate and receive little or no sympathy from me – I’ll leave that to God; if He’ll have them. I’ll not even give him significance enough to mention his name.
But I do have to wonder – what if he had received help at an earlier age, if such help was available. Would an earlier diagnosis have helped him become a productive citizen? If not, would knowledge of his condition have been able to prevent his access to weapons or merely alerted family to a much greater issue than just not fitting in?
Unfortunately of course, we’ll never know – but you and I know there will be a next time. So what’s to be done?
My small opinion is that we need to have a significant increase in awareness, in tools of evaluation and in follow-through. The Human Mind is an amazing mechanism and one we still know little about. But what we do know is that treatment exists that significantly helps most of those labeled as having a ‘mental illness’.
Here’s the thing, these people, these children – the ‘mentally ill’ are still people. They still feel, they still bleed and they still dream. They just need a different kind of help – they have a malady that doesn’t show on an x-ray or MRI reading. But they need our help nonetheless.
A mental health professional once told me that the damage from the label of ‘mentally ill’ often exacerbates the initial problem. Of course, this is because of how the individual ‘sees’ themselves through the eyes of the world.
If we have a broken leg and wear a cast, we have immediately sympathy; if we are bald from chemotherapy compassion is abound and it should be as such. But those afflicted with any ‘mental illness’ are really no different – they didn’t ask for such a condition, nor did they cause the condition from any of their actions. They merely have to suffer with it – often alone and in tremendous emotional pain.
‘Labels’ only offend until society understands – until then fear controls most of the actions and reactions. If we decide to take ‘mental illness’ out of the closet and begin to and continue to the promote symptoms and warning signs of illness and disorders and then commit to providing help, then parents will not need to be as fearful that their child will be considered a ‘crazy person’ for all of their life.
The damage that the ‘mentally ill’ could create seemingly hasn’t been a significant concern until the last several years, possibly because in prior times the mentally may only kill themselves. A desperate soul feeling suicide was the only solution was tragic enough; this is no longer the case – others are now in harm’s way.
The meter in the troubled mind of the worst thing imaginable has moved – killing oneself is no longer the worst, taking others along with them has been made a precedent – the ‘barometer’ has changed.
Hollywood actors have begun to acknowledge depression and commercials exist for anxiety disorders but there are many, many forms of illness and disorders that impact the emotional mind and I’ve seen none designed to alert parents of what they might see that should initiate the seeking of help. We parents tend to turn a ‘blind eye’ when it comes to our children – we must tell them what to look for.
And we have just witnessed again that left undiscovered or unattended, how children can grow up and can permanently affect the lives of innocent children and people. We need to be alert, discover and provide help or protection if needed; to protect us and them.
We must increase awareness and access to treatment so that those with an illness or disorder are not shunned as a child; so that parents aren’t afraid their child has such an illness for fear they will be segregated and shunned and so they can seek and obtain the help their child needs
… and so that we aren’t watching parents of 20 children and 7 teachers having to prepare for funerals one week before Christmas.