Yet another terrible public shooting took place this week. Motives are being judged, questions are being juggled, and the lack of answers are staggering.
In each and every situation of rage, horror, loss of life, and innocent victims, the first question asked is if there was evidence of mental illness. Not everyone with a mental disability is violent. Not all violent acts are committed by people with a mental health issue. There are many triggers and motives for why people behave the way they do. Should we classify the desire for fame, power, greed, jealousy, or money a mental illness? Or is that simply a personality type?
Today the media and politicians are asking why Mr. Alexis’ security clearance was not revoked and asking for greater permission and parameters to determine unsuitability going forward.
We have one in four people, according to the NIH, with a mental disability or mood disorder experience. Scientists are determining that many of these run along the same gene in the brain. A mental disability includes depression, anxiety or panic attacks, dyslexia, learning disabilities, postpartum depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and numerous and varied criteria along the Autism spectrum. Let’s not forget about other issues like Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, Alzheimer’s, strokes and more that involve blockages or neurons misfiring in the brain. There are people who are fortunate enough to have survived aneurisms, but that too may affect brain function and cognition. There are elderly and others who suffer from dementia ~ a mental disability ~ but not necessarily a violent one.
If every single person with a mental disability was declared unfit to work, our federal agencies and buildings would be empty. The reality is that turning away from the admission and acceptance of mental health issues does not make them go away; it may make them harmful or deadly.
The brain is so infinite in its neural pathways, neurons, unique chemistry, and wiring and unwiring, coiling and resetting that each case of mental illness is unique. Yet, many doctors and mental health professionals are tired of jumping through the hoops and reams of paperwork necessary to get paid for their services. With 48 million people in the US unable to afford or qualify for health insurance, and our stagnating unemployment rate, those who need help cannot afford to get it. Our levels of debt preclude health care for other survival necessities. For others, the bureaucracy is so overwhelming that they cannot navigate the system which can aggravate their symptomology. Many live in fear of retribution and judgment and avoid seeking the help that could save their, and others’, lives. Stigma. Fear. Isolation.
The highest suicide rates are among returning War Veterans and people over 50. Cyber bullying is causing children to turn to suicide. We are losing our best and our brightest. The strong men and women who protect our nation could be dismissed if they admitted to requiring psychological help. Medical records are no longer private since they must be reviewed to determine competency, so many will not seek treatment for fear of being turned away from a job or placement. Acknowledgment could be grounds for dismissal in any profession.
So, the stigma, silence, shame, isolation and avoidance continue to grow. People have had to choose between their groceries and their medications for a long time now. Our standards for health care and accessibility are spiraling out of control faster than a manic episode.
People with no family history of mental illness can, and do, experience traumatic life instances that trigger mental health episodes. To say it is not so, is an untruth. To say it does not exist in your family, workplace, school, or community is also a mistruth. It is all around us and within us. Triggers like death, divorce, unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, robbery and abuse are rampant in our daily lives. Some have become immune while others live in fear or anxiety of someone finding out that they are having trouble coping.
Proactively offering affordable and accessible health care, both physical and mental, is more effective and less of a financial and physical drain on our economy, medical professionals, first responders, emergency rooms and trauma centers, than treating after the fact. The human toll is too high a price to pay for no other way to relieve the inescapable.