My heart is shocked and saddened by the horror of yet another mass shooting and killing of innocent people. Clearly the perpetrator of this latest massacre in America is mentally ill, even if he is a white male. Some people say had he been Arab he would have been labeled a terrorist, had he been black he would have been called a thug, and had he been Latino he would have been termed a gang member. As far as I can tell, a violent terrorist, thug, or gang member is also ultimately mentally unwell. Violent criminals are deluded in some way or another. People are deluded by greed, anger, revenge, hatred, fear, and the lust for power or stuff. The list of delusions is long. And common. Nobody in their right mind commits violent crimes. The leaders of the world are included for I also count war as a violent crime originating from a collective mental un-wellness. In the case of the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes, the culprit and architect of the depraved act will be tried and most likely punished according to the laws of the land. And rightly so. Though he committed the crime we are all being collectively punished right here and now, without trial. We are traumatized. We are bereft. We are grief-stricken. We are angry. We are fearful. We are anxious. We are sick, of it. Our peace of mind has been stripped once again. We are all sharing the consequences of his crime. These are our punishments.
I also assert we are all collectively responsible for his crime. We are a society that doesn’t prioritize mental wellness. So much so that caring for extreme mental un-wellness, which we call mental illness, doesn’t make the cuts. Budget cuts are shredding the mental health safety net all across the nation. Just last month, in an effort to save the city of Chicago $3 million, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council closed six of its twelve mental health clinics. That’s a 50% slash. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn also closed the state’s Tinley Park Mental Health Hospital in June as part of a “rebalancing plan.” The hospital served 1900 patients in 2011. The new “rebalanced” budget will serve 1400 people. I guess the balance sheet doesn’t include about 500 people who need care for their mental illness. What course do you suppose their illness will take? These numbers don’t even take into account the pre-existing shortage of psychiatric beds for people without insurance. Chicago and Illinois are examples of a nationwide trend towards further de-prioritizing the care of mental illness. I cite the Chicago and Illinois closures simply for their untimely concurrence with a massacre that may have been preventable through proper recognition and care of mental illness. Mental health advocates in Chicago have protested, been arrested, and are attempting to put the city on trial claiming closure of the clinics has led to several deaths and a dozen or more emergency psychiatric hospitalizations. You and I know cuts to essential services will continue. Until we, individually and collectively, prioritize caring for people who suffer from mental illness, and insist on the availability of treatment and services, we can never hope to prevent the problems that arise from untreated mental illness. It’s actually rather straightforward.
Let’s not forget there are gradations of mental un-wellness. Mental happiness and peace cannot co-exist simultaneously with anger, anxiety, jealousy, fear, hatred, revenge, pride, or greed. Individually we may be doing our best to cope with these mental states. Some of us may be trying to eradicate our minds of these states of dis-ease. As a nation we do nothing collectively to cool the fires these emotions spark. The American cultural reaction to acts of terror or horror does not generally include the antidotes to these mental poisons: tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, patience, and collective responsibility. Instead we fuel the fires of anger, anxiety, fear, hatred, and revenge. We root for war, and the death penalty. We are sick. As health is wealth, and mental health is mental wealth, as a nation, America is collectively mentally impoverishing herself.
That’s just one slice of the American pie. The second slice is the fact that Americans insists on letting anybody buy and carry a gun of any kind. Why should we then be appalled when those very same people use those guns and kill people?! Often they also kill themselves. People buy guns in order to use them. They are not buying them as knick-knacks or wall decorations. People buy guns in order to use them. Guns are made to kill. Used correctly guns kill. Used incorrectly they can still kill. It’s really rather straightforward.
Sadly, politicians in this country are not taking a stand on gun control because we are not making them. And the people who profit from gun sales are feeding them and keeping them in power. New York Mayor Bloomberg said it perfectly, “… it’s time that the two people who want to be President of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it (gun violence), because this is obviously a problem across the country.” How many disasters will it take? You would think we’d had enough by now.
And why does it take a massacre to make us think? Or feel? We experience gun violence every single day? According to the CDC, in 2010 alone there were over 31,500 deaths from firearms. We just don’t hear about most of them. The personal drama and tragedy around each of those deaths is just as significant as the fatalities in mass shootings. And, if you haven’t been held up at gun point yet, you certainly know someone personally who has been. You may even know someone personally who has been shot and wounded, or killed. I know at least 6 people personally, not counting the many patients I saw with gunshot wounds while I was a trainee in the emergency room. And I lead a relatively sheltered middle class life. Honestly, I’ve had enough.
If we start counting violence that doesn’t involve guns then our share of violence sky-rockets. When we include robbery, rape, child and spouse abuse, bullying, harassment, road rage, and the poisoning of our food, water, soil, air, and over the counter products, then we begin to get a glimmer of the extent and prevalence of mental un-wellness in our world. We are rolling in it.
What we consider entertaining is the last piece of the American pie. The amount of violence we ingest through our televisions, movie screens, and rap songs is insane. Literally. Insane. And Desensitizing. I cannot say if it is a reflection of how we live or if it encourages us to live that way. Either way it’s unhealthy. Sure, it sells. Because we buy. And perhaps it also kills. Us. While seeking entertainment our priority is to be thrilled. But in the long term the thrill poisons our minds and lives. We ignore the dis-ease it causes us, the stress and anxiety in the moments of watching, and subconsciously thereafter, until the next massacre occurs when we momentarily take pause, then promptly forget, and unconsciously return to our daily treadmills for our daily bread.
The icing on the great American cultural pie is the vast numbers of people who are isolated and lack close human contact, relationships, and purpose. We can afford to live alone, we can afford to eat alone, and we can die alone. It is not uncommon for people to die alone in their own homes without anyone noticing their absence until several days have gone by. People can spend so much time in front of a screen (television, movie, computer, or video game) that their social skills plummet, or never develop. High school in America is the prime time when the social misfits, the ones with the extraordinary intelligence, artistic capacity, or physical difference, get practically ostracized. They are the kids that eat their lunch alone. And as a society we allow that to happen. And as we see, even our academic high achievers can spend hours, days, weeks, months alone devising and building elaborate traps and schemes without anyone in their social circle being aware of how they are spending their time. Why doesn’t anybody in their social circle have a clue about what they are up to? It is because there is no meaningful social circle. People are not involved in each other’s’ lives. Independence and Freedom are celebrated American cultural values. There is a feeling that one can do anything here. One can have purple hair, one can pierce one’s body in a thousand places, one can step way outside of the norm and nobody will care. That’s great. But perhaps ultimately we want someone to care. It seems the extreme practice of independence and freedom leads us to isolation and the feeling that ultimately nobody cares.
Violence is a manifestation of a mind that is unwell. A happy, peaceful mind doesn’t engage in violence. The other day a colleague of mine speculated that if an alien creature were to observe how we behave, what we value, how we entertain ourselves, it would correctly ascertain that we are a violent people, unhappy, and mentally unwell. We don’t have to be. We can care for our ill, restrain and restrict our guns, entertain and express ourselves in healthy ways, and stay connected with each other. To the best of our individual capacities we can diminish the mental states of dis-ease (anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, etc..) within our own minds. We can re-prioritize our wellness. Yes we can.
If you have any thoughts or experiences about access to effective and holistic care for mental illness, please comment on this post or send me a message through the contact form on the website. I will compile your feedback and send it to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to advocating for access to care and services, and research while raising awareness and building communities to support people and families affected by mental illness.
If you have thoughts or experiences about regulating public access to guns in America, please comment on this post or send me a message through the contact form on the website. I will compile your feedback and send it to the Brady Campaign, also a grassroots organization devoted to creating a nation free of gun violence by passing and enforcing laws that reduce gun violence and regulate the gun industry.
If you have any other comments, thoughts, reactions about how we have come to create a culture of violence or how we can move forward to create a culture of peace please share them here. Nei Jing Now wants to know from you!