In 2016, I wrote about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Fast forward to Wednesday’s tragedy at Douglas High School in Florida, and again we grapple with an emotional cocktail of fear, incredulity, and anger that surrounds this event. Blame is passed around like a proverbial hot potato, and the politicizing for more gun control is once again the topic of the day. Lives have been shattered, and the re-building must begin.
Cruz’ purchase of an AR-15 rifle was the result of a long-standing mental illness that went un-watched, un-checked, and unacknowledged, perhaps for years. Is there any more of a cry for help than publishing your cutting behavior on Snapchat? I mean, he publicly disclosed his own mental illness on SOCIAL MEDIA. And this behavior was happening BEFORE his mother died of pneumonia in November. His Mother! Realistically, how many people were in this young man’s social circle, in addition to his Mother? So many co-morbid signs and symptoms of mental illness abound in this young man, yet, we missed it.
Yes, WE missed it.
It’s time the American public took more of an interest in the mental health of its citizens. This includes a basic understanding of topics like the ACE study, which is a study about Adverse Childhood Experiences that lead to risky behaviors, substance abuse, and statistically, early death. Think of it as the adult mental health equivalent of an APGAR score in newborn babies. How about a basic understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which says that people who are in a “survivor” state — just able to get basic needs met — are mentally unable to self-actualize, to live in a “purposeful” way. This is the impetus behind free lunch programs in schools — hungry kids can’t learn. The ACE study and Maslow’s Needs are easy to understand, and part and parcel for any Psych 101 college course. Imagine the far-reaching benefits of teaching these concepts in grades K-12.
We live in a time where statistically, more people are seeking out psychics and Tarot card readers than are seeking mental health services. The stigma to the mental health field persists, laced with a chemical cocktail of psychotropic drugs with questionable efficacy. I’m the first to admit, the immediate gratification of a palm reading is much more appealing than taking mind-altering drugs and being in therapy for the next 6 months. That’s a no-brainer. Which is more sexy, fortune telling or mental health counseling? Duh.
Mental health counseling has a marketing problem. It’s seen as too involved, too expensive, and too time-consuming. Overworked Social Services agencies are in positions of deciding on the “best least worst” outcomes. However, just because an individual has access to services doesn’t mean s/he uses the services. I cannot tell you how many missed appointments I have had due to lack of transportation. When given the choice of using your money to buy bus fare, a “teenth,” or baby formula, that’s a head-scratcher for those with “access to services.” We’ve marketed mental health services as a safety net, not a trampoline.
The American Public can only benefit from more basic mental health information to educate its populace. When we know better, we do better, and we cannot expect to transform ourselves if we do not inform ourselves. Instead of reacting to tragedy, let’s take action by educating ourselves so that we can prevent future events.