Because the events in Connecticut are still so raw in all of our minds and hearts, I’ve hesitated to undertake this topic until now. Having taught over 2000 students during the first ten years of my professional life, I was exposed to a small percentage of individuals with behavioral health challenges. I taught some kids who were barely able to function in society, and some who were bipolar and/or schizophrenic, including at least three who evolved into sociopaths and murderers.
As a hospital administrator, I’ve never forgotten this phone call: “My husband has stopped taking his lithium and the last time he did that, he came after his closest friend. That would be you. I’m leaving him, but you need to be careful.”
I’m also familiar with this quote, “If you take five prescription medications there is a 100 percent chance they will interact with each other; we just don’t know what that interaction will be.” So, is the pharmaceutical industry complicit in this issue as well? Quite possibly.
Back in the eighties, much of the inpatient mental health system all but vanished in this country, and today behavioral health challenges continue to carry a stigma that is not only tenuous but also very detrimental to the well being of not only those challenged individuals but for all of us. So, yes, behavioral health issues have clearly been a part of each of these attacks. And is that an easy fix? I think not. I believe the stigma associated with mental illness is a huge problem, and even if we seek help, it is many times not available.
Let’s discuss the third rail. As a kid I grew up with guns and target shooting was one of my favorite family pastimes. I can tell you that we never had a problem due to the fact that we owned those guns. They were locked up; they were handled appropriately, and they were used for what they were intended.
However, when you see facts like: There have been 62 gun-related mass murder attacks across this country since 1982, or that approximately 50 million people own about 250,000,000 guns in the U.S., you have to wonder about connectivity to this issue.
The chief medical examiner has said the ammunition was the type designed to break up inside a victim’s body and inflict the maximum amount of damage, tearing apart bone and tissue. So what about gun control? Do I believe that semiautomatic weapons, armor piercing bullets, extended clips, et al., contribute to the ease of access for these mass murderers? Yes, I do. I would love to see controls regarding the above mentioned killing devices, but I do not believe this is the only solution. Should people be permitted to own guns? Yes.
Is part of the problem because we have created such vicious and mind-numbing video games that glorify showing brain fragments, blood and body parts flying everywhere when the player makes a direct hit with his faux automatic weapon? Have the countless violent television shows and movies made us numb? Is the breakdown of the family unit a contributing factor? In my opinion, the answer is yes to all.
We have also become a uniquely isolated civilization where neighbors don’t know or recognize neighbors. We walk around with our heads down and our earphones tucked neatly into our ears making sure we have no eye contact. This isolation also might be a component in this complicated stew of contributing factors. There is no easy solution. I would hate to see our schools and colleges become modified prisons. I would hate to see our lives become self-imposed solitary confinement chambers, but clearly excessive access to kill-type weapons, inadequate access to behavioral health treatment, lack of understanding of drug interactions, and excessive exposure to violence seem to have created the perfect storm.
During this holiday season and throughout the year, we need to hold each other and love each other more than ever before. That’s one thing that we surely do need, lots more love, understanding and appreciation of our common humanness.