WE ALL KNOW SOMEONE
As a child I remembered words like “mentally retarded” being a perfectly ordinary way to describe another human being. No big deal was ever made about those “retards” that never went to school, because “who wanted them there” anyways. In those early years mental illness was an aberration that happened only to people who had done something wrong; like smoking or drinking while pregnant, or God was punishing them for the sins of their parents.
One day, when I was in high school, my mother attempted to commit suicide and my eyes were snatched open to a new type of mental “retardation” called depression. Depression was interesting, because pills could fix it, and no one ever had to know you had it. We found out later that my mother’s depression was the result of trauma, and pills could only hide the depression- not cure it. Over the next 30 years I learned that not only does depression make you “sad”, it can also make you angry; cause you to drink, smoke, do drugs or worse. I also learned that my mother wasn’t the only one suffering from depression.
According to a 2014 Newsweek article, 1 in 5 Americans (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population.) suffer from some sort of mental illness… 42.5 million people struggle with mental illness, and as it turns out, depression is just the tip of the iceberg. Other “illnesses” include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The study shows that another 9.3 million Americans, ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental-illness”- to put it another way, their condition impedes day to day activities. The good news is, with the proliferation of mental illness across all parts of American society, policies are actually being proposed that could potentially help people like my mother get the help they need.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010, for instance, names mental health as an “essential benefit“- meaning that every health insurance policy must cover it in order to meet the governments mandated “minimum requirements.” The bad news is that some states are balking at offering the coverage, and millions of Americans are left to cope with these issues on their own- the results of which are often catastrophic.
WHAT IS APPARENT…
The proofs are as indisputable as they are indelible: April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech student, Seung- Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before taking his own life; December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza kills 27, including 20 children (ages 5-10) as well as his own mother before turning the gun on himself; July 20,2012, University of Colorado doctoral student, James Holmes, kills 12 people and wounds another 70 before surrendering to the police. Three men… 71 dead… 87 wounded and countless lives destroyed. Three mentally ill men killed 71 Republicans, Democrats, right-wing nut-jobs, bleeding-heart socialist anti-American liberals… and children. Children, unmarked by any desire other than to love, to be loved, to learn, and then go home.
Seung- Hui was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder when he was in the 8th grade; James Holmes told his therapist that he fantasized about “killing lots of people… to make up for his failure in science” nearly a month before the shootings; Adam Lanza was described by friends and family members as being “deeply troubled.”
Ultimately, we may never know what compelled them and the truth is (at this point) the “why” doesn’t matter… their acts are inexcusable, and the pain caused by them will take generations to heal. What is apparent is that mental illness is no longer an “issue” effecting a handful of people, easily relegated to outskirts of society and forgotten. It is a crisis, cloaked in denial, quietly passed from generation to generation until someone breaks… and suddenly the delusion is shattered, blood is spilled, and in a flash of light and death it becomes clear that someone, who could have been anyone, needed help.