A Conversation about Mental Health in the US

I’ve written, deleted, and re-written this same post over and over again because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. And because I was afraid of what people would think when they read it. But in light of Friday night’s school shooting, constant talk of more gun control, and little talk about the mental health of the shooters of any of the school and mall shootings we’ve seen, and this incredible article written by Liza Long, I’ve decided to write it again and post it. I’ve already posted it on Facebook, but I think it needs a lot of attention, not necessarily what I’ve written but the subject. So here goes, my attempt at showing the other side.

I just finished reading an article by Liza Long, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, posted over at The Blue Review, a blog of sorts published by the Boise State University College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Please read her article before going on with my post, it’s cool, I’ll wait. Go on now….

Read it? What do you think? How does this make you feel?

I feel like, in some ways, as I post this piece, I’m sort of coming out. I am not for more gun control. I know that this is probably the most unpopular belief out there, but there it is. I truly believe that each and every one of these horrible school shootings is caused not by guns but instead caused by someone who is severely mentally ill who hasn’t been able to get the correct treatment that he needs and has a right to as a human. When you look at the cases of the school shootings in the last 15 years each of those people who did the shootings was mentally ill.

When I hear about a shooting the first question in my mind is always, “why was this person not being treated for his mental illness?” Again another unpopular opinion. But I don’t care anymore. Ask yourself a few questions: How many were of the gunmen were being treated? Why was treatment not available? Why was an obvious mental illness (most specifically in the case of the theater shooting and the shooting in Tucson) ignored? Why are we still not taking mental illness seriously?

In his speech at the White House, President Obama tells us that the families of Newton, CT, will receive counseling to deal with the tragedy. But why couldn’t we offer or have care for the mentally ill NOW instead of having to put the pieces back together again after such a tragedy. This is President Obama’s fourth massacre on his watch. When will we see that it’s not just about guns, but about what’s happening before the tragedy happens?

So here’s where I out myself: Every time I go to a new doctor I have to write down that I am being treated for depression and an anxiety disorder. Did you know that? Could you tell that by looking at me? How do you feel now? Are you rethinking every conversation we’ve had? Because when some of my previous doctors see that note in my file their approach to me totally changes. Sometimes I get lucky and the doc treats me and my illnesses as if it were just another disease. Other times I get patronized. For years I’ve been dealing with horrible stomach problems that totally disrupt my life and my doc kept telling me, “you just need to de-stress.” Great, how do I do that? She tells me that my “stress” is all in my head. That’s the standard line every person with an anxiety disorder has heard whenever he/she has gone to the doctor. Its all in your head and therefore unreal, and since its unreal its untreatable.Guess what? I have a new doc, a couple of them actually, and they are treating me for a very real digestive disorder. You know, the one that was all in my head, the one that was unreal and untreatable. They are taking me seriously and not writing off my problem because I have an anxiety disorder. They listen, they talk to me, they treat me like anyone else who comes into their office. I am grateful. We need more doctors like this.

If this is what I have to deal with, can you imagine what it’s like to be the parent of a child with a severe mental illness? Read the article. Think about it for awhile. Think about a social worker telling you that the only way your extremely mentally ill child is going to get help is if he commits a crime. And then the only place to get “treatment” is jail. How is that treatment?

People, this isn’t about guns. These school shootings are not about guns, or gun laws, or gun safety. Its about mental health. We need to stop being so freaking scared of mental illness and start treating it instead of running from it. Until that happens, we’re most assuredly going to see more mass shootings. This is the 21st Century and we’re still treating mental health issues as if we live in the Dark Ages. Mentally ill people are not demons. Every single one of us wants to be treated the same as anyone else who has a disease or illness. Our illnesses are not contagious. Our illnesses can be treated. But we need more research, more help, more acceptance. We need to say something. Liza Long, the author of this post, is a strong woman who refuses to ignore her child’s illness. No one wants to hear that their child is acting oddly, but wouldn’t you rather know than be the mother of Adam Lanza? Wouldn’t you rather get your child help when you realize something isn’t right?

This is the battle I’m willing to fight. Sure, I don’t want my co-workers to look at me like I’m a crazy person or avoid me because I’ve outed myself as having not one but three mental illnesses. But I’d rather people know who have courage to step up to me and say, “Is everything okay” when its obvious that something is wrong. I’ve been really lucky to have a fantastic husband and beautiful friends who have always been able to spot trouble brewing when I couldn’t see it in myself. I’m eternally grateful for that. Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if Mrs. Lanza wasn’t worried or nervous about sons illness or what the neighbors would think about her or him? Wouldn’t it be nice if she had been able to get Adam treatment and he didn’t kill babies?

Mental illness needs more awareness and support. We need to stop reacting so badly when we see a mentally ill child “act out”. We need to offer our help to the parent who is probably really tired of dealing with it all the time. If you see a parent struggling with a child, don’t stare. Ask if you can get something for them. Sometimes all the parent needs is a tissue; maybe, like Liza Long, police need to be called.
We, as neighbors and good citizens, need to learn the signs of serious mental illness so that we can help people get treatment before things get out of hand. And we need to demand equal research and medical treatment for mental illness. Let’s put as much effort into research and treatment as we do diabetes, AIDS/HIV, cancer. Where are the walk-a-thons and rubber bracelets for the mentally ill?It’s not guns. Its us. We need to change. Not gun laws. Us.

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2 responses to “A Conversation about Mental Health in the US

  1. Wow. I don’t have anything to say but AMEN, sister! I agree with you 100% on everything. I’m so glad you are finding doctors that listen to you and pray they will help.
    When I first read the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” article, I was so anxious by the end of it because all I could think was, “Oh my gawd, that kid is going to seriously hurt someone or something.” I felt so anxious and sorry for all the people involved because what can they do when there’s no real help? I can’t imagine being in that family’s position although I do know some people that are struggling with the exact problem right now. It’s scary and it’s sad and it’s frustrating. =( — I’m so glad you posted this! Never be afraid to voice your opinions.

  2. Wanted to say that I’ve also had patronizing doctors when I’m seeing a new one and they see my history with antidepressants and anxiety meds. They tell me to get more exercise for the anxiety and find joyful things to do to relax my depression. – I also hate when these same doctors ask, “Are you or have you felt suicidal, recently?”…and sometimes the answer is/was yes, but I don’t want to tell them because they will freak out. I didn’t trust telling them the truth judging from the ignorance in their first suggestions.

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