Here we are again, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. The responses have been very predictable: People screaming what they believe should be done about the shooting, and people with different views screaming about how evil the people that offer those views are – while offering their competing views just as loudly.
Politicians have been crying, “you must vote for me because my opponent is evil” for many years. In my opinion, it has been much worse in the 21st century, starting with the 2000 presidential election. There doesn’t appear to be ANY news organization that only reports the news. All of them “report” while adding in their opinion so prominently that it bears no resemblance to “reporting.” And everything is political. One of these days I’m going to turn on the Food Network and there’s going to be a talking head explaining why eating a certain brand of chicken is evil because only Democrats or Republicans would stoop so low as to eat that brand. Either that or eating cake baked with certain ingredients is racist.
But getting back to the mass shootings… I’ve heard every possible argument about how to prevent future mass shootings, including that it’s a mental health issue. My view is that these shootings are indeed a mental health issue, but I haven’t seen anyone take the stand that I believe would bring real change. What is that stand?
We must glorify mental illness treatment.
The two teachers that were killed in the May 24 Texas school shooting are being presented as heroes. That is how it should be. They were trying to shield their students from the gunman and lost their lives in the process. That is real heroism.
We also present cancer survivors as heroes. Whether it’s stage 1 or stage 4, anyone who hears their oncologist say, “I cannot find any cancer,” and we want to throw a parade for them, which is exactly how we should feel.
We must present mental health treatment in the same light. There are many negative stereotypes about mental illness. Those that openly display their illness are routinely mocked and ridiculed. Many do not view mental illness as the same as a physical illness like HIV or cancer. They view mental illness as something to be ashamed of and hidden. Admitting you are mentally ill is akin to admitting you’re a lower life form than people without mental illness. People accuse the mentally ill of making excuses for their failures or that admitting the illness and seeking treatment makes you weak, and less of a real person for doing so. People act like mental illness is contagious, that it’s something they can “catch” by being in close proximity to a mentally ill person.
Try to imagine this conversation at the office:
Mike: Did you hear that Janie has leukemia?
Sally: Really? I never would have expected her for that.
Mike: Keep that to yourself; she doesn’t want everybody to know.
Sally: Yeah, I can understand that. She’d probably get suspended or fired.
Mike: Right? She might miss a chemo treatment and walk in here and have a conniption fit or something.
Impossible? Probably. But change “leukemia” to bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or depression, or general anxiety, and tell me it’s impossible to hear the same conversation. It’s not only possible but highly likely.
Now imagine this conversation:
Mike: Did you hear that Janie has leukemia?
Sally: Really? I never would have expected that for her.
Mike: Well, she’s already seen a specialist, who said there’s a very good chance she can beat it.
Sally: That’s great! Is there anything we can do to help?
Mike: We could probably set up one of those meal trains so she can take a break from cooking during treatment, or maybe a GoFundMe because you know how rotten our company insurance is at sticking us with huge co-pays.
That’s the kind of conversation you would expect. Well, again, change “leukemia” to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or general anxiety. Shouldn’t we respond in the same manner? And if we routinely did, wouldn’t the people we love who have these mental illnesses be more inclined to seek treatment and be open about what they’re dealing with?
I’ve heard some people say this week, “normalize talking about mental health.” That’s not nearly enough. We don’t need to just normalize getting mental health treatment, we need to glorify it. Put it on the same pedestal as we do being open about cancer, getting treatment, and hearing the good news that the cancer is gone.
Many people respond to mass shootings by calling for restricting gun access. I understand the thinking. However, that’s not going to stop people from getting hold of guns (see the high level of gun use in places that have very tight gun access laws like New York and Chicago). Even if the restrictions did reduce gun violence, people in these situations would turn to other methods to kill. You can wipe out a large number of people with a pressure cooker if you know what to do with it. Australia banned guns altogether but is now dealing with a dramatic increase in knife stabbings.
Here’s another challenge for you: List the mass shootings where the subsequent investigation found that the shooter had absolutely no trace of mental illness. This is where I’m supposed to say, “I’ll wait,” but I won’t because you’ll be searching for weeks, if not months. And your findings will be very limited.
I’m fully convinced that the solution to mass killings can be found not in focusing on the weapon used, but on the state of mind of the person with the weapon. In 2022 America, the first reaction to mental illness is to hide it. We need to make the first reaction to mental illness be to treat it.