Politics October 18, 2017
If we lived in a society that taught empathetic conflict to our children before teaching them to throw a punch, we would live in a different country.
Mental illness should never be quantified by one individual, but talking about mental healthcare in the wake of ANY violent tragedy is important.
However, to hell with what Paul Ryan said, their expansion of mental healthcare is NOT enough and still not accessible enough. It’s not even about access, but the culture that fuels and encourages maladaptive and violent behavior that exacerbates trauma.
This is about how lack of gun control gives dangerous, impulsive people of all mental status free reign to kill. The government provides a culture that says, “Yes, kill people as defense for your obviously untended problems. That’s cool.”
I feel strongly about this as someone who struggles with mental illness myself. I was able to receive help during my dark, albeit nonviolent, days through vigorous thorough treatment that got me to stand up on my own two feet today. I maintain my mental illness by seeing a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) trained therapist every week and a psychiatrist every month to make sure my meds are keeping me leveled and healthy.
How was I able to receive treatment? My privilege for access to top programs like the Columbia Day Program, my privilege to take time off from school and work to recover; my privilege for having confused and worried, yet supportive family members who convinced me to get help. Without those things I would be where I was five years ago: sad, angry, alone and suicidal.
Not many people know this about me because I’m personable, motivated and energetic a fair amount of the time in person. I still have episodes, but have logged thousands of hours of therapy and mindfulness and follow medication regimens that have kept me climbing that slow, rickety ladder towards mastery and skillfulness.
Why is sharing a fraction of my personal story important? It’s so, so important because many people I know are quick to say, “Don’t blame the mentally ill!” when terrorism happens. Of course not! Don’t be bigoted towards millions of people as a unit, but I admit, as someone with depression and anxiety, that there is a spectrum of people. Just like any humans, we have kind and good-natured mentally ill people and also misguided and violent mentally ill people.
Why would a man who had everything commit domestic terrorism? He possessed white male privilege, millions of dollars, homes around the country, caring girlfriends and high-roller status at many casinos that showered him in free vacations, flashy cars and comped luxury suites. He lived the ultimate self-made man American dream.
The media hardly focused on his background, just his paper records. For instance, I certainly had no history of mental illness before I was actively showing symptoms. Just like any disease, it can take hold at any point in life and does not discriminate against race, class or religion. What did this terrorist’s background reveal?
His father was on FBI’s most-wanted list for many years, was a known psychopath and moved his family on the lam escaping officials then faked his own death and didn’t inform his sons. Does THAT sound like a recipe for a happy human? His brother seemed to overcome this traumatic childhood, but that didn’t happen for him.
When we talk about white terrorism in America, we also need to talk about the culture that promotes anger and violence as badass and masculine whereas honesty, compassion and feelings are for them womenfolk. OKAY. It’s not some random evil person every single tragedy; it’s the culmination of NO gun control and a culture that views expressing feelings as weakness.
I would say the same for every man of every background who has committed mass violence. He was sick and he needed help. Regardless of medical record or “seeming” normal, maybe he didn’t have a mental illness at all, but instead had serious PTSD from his childhood? I’m not normalizing him or excusing his behavior, but every psychopath killer fits RIGHT into a DSM or treatable illness.
If we lived in a society that praised understanding and forgiveness and taught empathetic conflict to our children before teaching them to throw a punch, we would live in a different country. If men were allowed to fight against the toxic masculinity they were taught to express their fears, desires, emotions and vulnerability, honestly and without judgement, we wouldn’t be here.
So I ask you to think about what would allow this to be remedied? I know it is just one piece of a big, enormous 5000-piece puzzle, but you cannot complete a puzzle without its missing pieces. We have all the answers already, it’s just a matter of implementing them.
Treat routine mental healthcare as any other wellness and check and provide expanded, affordable access to EVERYONE, regardless of diagnosis. Many seemingly neurotypical people have acute cases of mental illness every now and then. Just like a totally healthy person can get cancer or a heart attack. Treat healthcare as a right and not a privilege. Include mental healthcare in this right.
There isn’t a serial killer or terrorist who surely hasn’t felt any kind of suffering that led them to demise and destruction. There is a cause and effect in their life. From Omar Mateen to Timothy McVeigh to the Boston Bombers, these were real people with real pain that manifested in extreme, horrible violence. We tend to dehumanize our most cruel citizens, but at the end of the day, they are still humans. However, humans that were incredibly flawed, dangerous, disenfranchised, and incredibly in need of help.
When sourcing our anguish and pain becomes as routine as feeling a pain in your chest and seeing a doctor, is when this epidemic will end. When we limit guns beyond mental illness and base it on skill, need and extended background checks or education is when this will end. When we have compassion for our most far gone citizens despite hating what they have done, we can stop them before violence or malice spreads.
Our country has the tools. It’s about both making these tools accessible to systemically oppressed citizens who cannot afford it, and to those whose privileged positions in white supremacy do not allow them to access processing, compassion and empathy.
However ALL of these things only work if they are in tandem with changing attitudes and laws towards gun control, violence, both physical and sexual in our culture, along with expanded routine access to healthcare.
We have to wake the fuck up and change our crumbling, scary world. We have the tools — now let’s use them. We owe it to everyone past, present and future suffering in pain, with no idea how to deal with their emotions, and we owe it to their victims past, present and future to say we will fight every damn day to make sure this does not happen again under our watch.
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