Addressing Mental Illness

I was very relieved to receive a response text from my childhood friend yesterday. She works at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas where a shooter opened fire and killed two people, injuring many others yesterday. I know I’m not the only one wondering WTF? Like you, I have been appalled at the recent spate of gun violence in the U.S. and every-other-week reports of yet another mass-shooting. I am not writing to debate whether the United States should get a grip (pun intended) on regulating assault weapons. Jason Alexander already expressed my views eloquently on Twitter recently.

My question is why are we not talking about the horrible state of treating mental illness? I understand that people have all sorts of motivations to commit mass murder and that not all mass killers suffer from mental illness. I just think you have to at least be a little off-your-rocker to kill people en mass. I am not assessing blame at all, but my mind always wonders what the people in the lives of these shooters were thinking. I don’t expect parents or laymen to know what is odd or antisocial behavior that will chug along forever without any violence and behavior that will become violent. It just seems like society could be doing so much better at addressing mental illness. We still talk about mental health in seemingly only pejorative terms. We only ever hear about the loonies, not about the success stories. It’s hard to write an interesting news story about the dad who took his anti-depressants and didn’t shoot his family. And yet I feel like I’m contributing to the problem, or at least not helping it. If nothing else, I am certainly talking out of both sides of my mouth.My husband and I watch an alarming number of crime dramas. I don’t know why they are such an escape at the end of a long day. I could watch Breaking Bad until my eyes bled and was bummed they cancelled The Closer. There is no doubt my prejudices and pre-conceived ideas about mental illness and violence are being reinforced by watching these shows. And yet I’m not here writing about how I feel bad about that. In fact, I wish people would just lighten up sometimes. I guess I just wanted to come clean, or something.

I don’t pretend to even be able to scratch the surface of the myriad complexities involved with mental disorders. I get that we can’t all keep tabs on each other all the time to check in and make sure everything is going okay, but I can at least say I wish we would. I wish there was a way to reach people, and that there wasn’t such a stigma attached to mental illness. Why do insurance companies treat insurance coverage for mental illness like it’s not relevant? Most only cover 50%. Why is it such a revelation that Jesse Jackson, Jr. has bipolar disorder? Other than Catherine Zeta Jones, I can’t think of many other celebrities that have gone public with a mental illness. I mean, after they were hospitalized for, ehem, “exhaustion”. Why do some people need to assess blame or associate weakness with mental disorders? It’s a fucking disorder. It’s not that person’s fault that he or she has a disorder. (I’m not addressing whether the shooters are at fault. Clearly, it will be proved that they killed people. Whether they can be held criminally accountable is another issue).

And yet think of the improvement to the standard of living we would all enjoy if we didn’t have to deal with crazy people and the havoc they wreak. Fucking crazy people.

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