This past weekend has been a very difficult weekend. The country has been touched by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT where 20 children and 7 adults lost their life due to a devastating shooting . Many outlets have named the young man, but I would prefer to focus on the other factors that are involved.
First, I have to say that I was horrified as I watched this story unfold. Details came out slowly and it is hard to comprehend why someone would execute or carry out a plan on defenseless children. It’s hard to comprehend the thinking and lack of empathy. And, I have shed more than a few tears over this weekend. I keep picturing those families that have lost their children and those children that have loss their innocence. Christmas will never be the same and gifts under the tree that were meant to show love will serve as reminders of what was loss for no reason. My heart and prayers are with all that were affected by this tragedy.
My hope for this is that it results in a larger conversation. I believe that there are three things that contribute to this type of destruction: stigma, denial and apathy.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.- Edmund Burke
We, most certainly, have to talk about guns and gun control. But, we also need to talk about mental illness. There is such a stigma around mental illness that people don’t seek the help they need to prevent acts like this. Healthcare doesn’t cover many mental health options which also prevents people from having enough money to manage their mental illness. And lastly, many people see mental illness as a weakness and may deny or ignore the actions of someone who is severely depressed or suicidal.
Mental illness is not a weakness. Often, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain or it can be brought on by trauma or stress. Mentally ill people are often highly intelligent rather than suffering from some sort of deficiency. In the past, the way of dealing with people with mental illness was to lock them away from society. I think that, collectively, through stigma, denial and apathy that we continue this practice. It’s not a solution to the problem. People that suffer mental illness need support. They need love and they need help to deal with their suffering. They need someone to help them discover that they are not prisoners to their thinking.
We have an opportunity to have a larger conversation about prevention. How can you prevent these types of tragedies? We need to pay attention to the signs. We need to shake our denial and listen to what people say. If someone says, “I’m going to kill you” or “I am going to kill myself’, you need to take it very seriously. You need to encourage them to see a doctor and to get some help. You could be saving lives.
We should not allow these children and adults to die in vain. Let the lesson from this tragedy be to let go of stigma, denial and apathy. Let’s have the larger conversation about guns and mental health. Let’s make ourselves responsible to notice when someone has become unstable or is making inappropriate comments. I think enough is enough.
“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.”- Eleanor Roosevelt