Moving forward from Sandy Hook by understanding mental-health issues
I am still stunned and grieved by the Sandy Hook school massacre. I grasp for solutions to the recurring domestic shootings and the heated gun-control debates. Yet in my desperate search for humanity, I want to distance myself from the perpetrator.
Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman who shot 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was quickly characterized by the media as a shy and troubled young man. He was addicted to violent video games. He was socially awkward in school.
He was reported as living with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that includes symptoms such as difficulty with social interaction and concentration. Although there is speculation of Lanza’s mental-health condition, there has been no confirmed diagnosis.
Depictions of Lanza seem to fit a stereotypical characterization of killers in school shootings. They fall in line with the descriptions of the killers at Columbine High School to Virginia Tech, amongst others who lived with mental-health issues.
Yet it is too easy to cast the blame on mental-health issues, a vague cop-out explanation to acts of desperation and violence we are too scared to try to understand. What must be addressed with equal emphasis to gun control reform is our conception and awareness of mental-health issues — because society cannot heal if we can’t come face to face with ourselves.
The spectrum of mental-health issues is broad and the vast majority of people living with mental-health conditions are not violent. David R. Stone, chief executive of Sound Mental Health, a community mental-health agency in Seattle, stressed specific conditions of cognitive instability, emotional instability and high stress to violent behavior.
“There is a very small percent of people with mental illness who have a potential to hurt themselves or others,” said Stone. “We need to understand what stress can do to any of us and what not understanding people can do to us.”
Stone also warned against the stigma of mental-health issues as permanent and incurable. The vast majority of people with mental-health issues can recover to some degree, and the small percentage who do not have difficulty accepting or receiving necessary treatment and support, said Stone.
“We need to educate ourselves about the myths of mental illness and the powerful stigmas they have on them [those living with mental-health issues] and us—society,” said Stone.
Mental-health issues are not confined to individuals — they affect our communities. Close to 40 percent of us will need some form of mental-health care, according to Stone. Instead of distancing ourselves from perpetrators of violence by perpetuating harmful stigmas about mental-health issues, we should seek empathy. We need to move toward more prevention, more education and more understanding of mental-health issues in order to move forward.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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