Mental illness knows no prejudice. It does not recognize gender or age. It does not recognize wealth, poverty or fame. It does not recognize social status, race, or religion. Nor does it recognize ignorance or denial. Mental illness is a powerful thing. It lives and grows; it affects anyone it chooses. It has no limits or boundaries.
We must look at mental illness analytically, and not as this source of “evil” everyone keeps talking about. We need to look at the root cause of terrible acts, not just the means to the end.
In regard to acts of violence, society continues to look at reactive measures, such as random forms of gun control (i.e. banning high capacity magazines and assault type rifles), and increased jail sentences. I’m not suggesting these aspects shouldn’t be addressed. They are contributing factors and require a realistic focus. But, they are not the answer in matters such as these.
We need to get ahead of these acts, not behind them. We need to be proactive and adopt a complete, multi-dimensional approach in addressing the root causes behind these perverse acts. Most notable are the tragedies involving gun violence, which tend to be enlarged by the media. But let’s not forget the incidents of NFL players who have fallen victim, or the celebrities who have lost their battles with the day-to-day struggles of these same illnesses. I can go on and on. I think you get the point. Although there are many differences between these acts, they all have one common factor underlying the root cause…mental illness.
Experience as a Guide
I have worked in the mental health field for a number of years now. I have seen the effects of mental illness on human beings. I have seen the repeated cycle it tends to take, and how the victims of these illnesses often become the offenders. This chain must be broken in order to stop this violence. Early intervention and a multi-disciplined approach are the keys.
Unfortunately, the mental health system in this country does not adequately address this issue. We disregard it. Funding is not given to sufficiently address these matters. They have fallen by the wayside. We have closed institutions and sent mentally ill people to the streets. We mainstreamed affected children into regular classrooms and just labeled them “problematic”.
We continuously place a stigma on mental illness. This makes it difficult for social acceptance, causing it to repress and eventually resurface in different forms. We need to think at a higher level as a society. Blaming such events on poor societal control is not prudent. Once again, dig a bit deeper. Americans work twice as much as other countries. Yet we have far less time away from work (major stressor) as other countries allow. Perhaps this might have an effect on mental health in America?
Where do we go from here?
Please know I am not attempting to justify or minimize these acts. I am a father, a husband, and human service worker. I too struggle to understand these tragedies. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain caused in these situations for the victims, families, and the offenders. They certainly need support in many ways. I pray they will find peace and eventually heal. I have faith in the resilience of the human spirit.
Mental illness is not a choice, just as addiction and sexual orientation are not. It chooses you. It is not a wonder. It is real. We must address it as a society and as a whole. I encourage you to find ways to accept and support mental health issues in our communities. We must advocate for these issues at all levels within our government. We must work together to ensure adequate resources are made available to address this deficit and encourage further research. We must get at the root of the cause before a spark ignites it.
Lastly, as human beings, we must also demonstrate compassion, support, and tolerance towards each other, and have faith we will prevail. Just as mental illness knows no prejudice, neither does mental health.
For more information, visit:
Improving Mental Health and Addressing Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health