Culture, Essays

Call Me Crazy, But We Need to Talk About Mental Health Right Now

Like most Americans right now, I’m extremely distraught over the shooting in Orlando, Florida, where I lived from 2009-2012. I’m horrified by how bigotry and hatred played into this act of terror, and I hope we all continue to shine a light on that aspect of what’s happened, because we absolutely cannot tolerate intolerance. I could use this moment and this space to preach about equality, which should always be our first priority, but I don’t believe I have anything new to offer on a subject that should be so obvious; we’re all people, and as Lin-Manuel Miranda put it at last night’s Tony Awards, “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.”

Less than two weeks after a shooting at UCLA that, to my knowledge, had nothing to do with sexuality, religion, or race, I personally want to focus on some things I believe we can immediately control in order to effect necessary change. Gun safety is the big one. Everyone’s talking about it: guns are dangerously easy to acquire in the U.S., and the country needs to loosen its ridiculous grip on the second amendment, adjust its policies, and work harder to prevent putting automatic weapons into the wrong hands. I feel like the conversation always ends there, though, and we rarely talk about what we mean by the “wrong hands.” In fact, I feel like a lot of people disgracefully use that subject as a vehicle for Islamaphobia, but religion hasn’t been the common thread tying the endless string of shootings in America together…The discourse on mental illness in America remains severely hushed, and the stereotypes surrounding mental illness are as ingrained as ever, despite the fact that mental illness is extremely common. As someone who isn’t ashamed to admit that I have to take medication every day and visit a therapist regularly in order to avoid manic-depressive episodes and manage my crippling anxiety, I’m curious as to how America plans to confront the role mental illness plays in gun violence, or begin reducing gun violence, if we can’t even manage talk about mental health at length at all. We need to be brave adults and just bust open the dialogue on mental health and de-stigmatize mental-emotional issues, because right now, for many Americans, guns are easier to access than health care and appropriate treatment. Mental illness doesn’t have to be shameful, and it doesn’t have to ruin lives.

I suppose I’ve contradicted myself. I am preaching equality: I don’t think people who suffer from mental illness are treated fairly in America. Many of the people we ultimately call monsters are people we cast off for being different, people we’d rather ignore than assist. At this time, I’m not going to bombard you with a bunch of statistics or clinical facts regarding mental illness; I’m just going to tell you, plain and simple, that stigmatizing or silencing groups of people based on fear, discomfort, a lack of understanding, and general prejudice, leads to unsafe situations, and when we aren’t safe, we aren’t free.

I hope you won’t think I’m being insensitive, or in any way excusing the Orlando shooter’s heinous, homophobic actions, or his affiliation with ISIS. There is no excuse for such bigotry, violence, or terrorism. The shooter is not the victim here. However, as many Americans gear up to place blame and fight hatred with more hatred, I think we should acknowledge that extremism, religious or not, often stems from mental-emotional instability. (The shooter’s ex-wife has stated that he was mentally ill, and cites this as the true root of his actions. She laments how this will affect the Muslim community.) I’m not saying a few therapy sessions or a prescription could have prevented this nightmare. I’m saying that the list of senseless shootings aside from this one is so long, that we must examine these massacres collectively and consider how we address mental illness more carefully. I could go on a million tangents in a million different directions right now, because the way I see it, most of our country’s problems are tightly intertwined, to a dizzying degree. But the bottom line is that we need to listen to each other, we need to accept each other. We need to give each other love, or at the very least, respect. And we need to open our eyes to reality. We need to ask ourselves why America faces mass shootings more frequently than any other country in the world, and and we need to become solution-oriented, instead of just angry and hateful. (I don’t know about you, but I am pretty fucking exhausted from being angry, and I’m certain I’ve exhausted all of my Facebook friends, too.) (…Insert angry rant about people who constantly talk about the Founding Fathers and harp on concepts that are completely irrelevant today…)

I’m sad, I’m scared—but I’m hopeful; and while I understand that a lot of the seemingly (or totally) empty “thoughts and prayers” on social media frustrate those who so desperately want to actively achieve change, I also personally appreciate how social media has created a platform for people to come together, enlighten and uplift each other, and initiate real conversations about real issues. Just think about Brock Turner: a judge may not have had the sense or decency to punish Turner appropriately, but social media has allowed us to rally together to raise his victim’s voice, to see that this injustice does not get swept under the rug, and to ensure that Turner ultimately won’t be entitled to the privileges he renounced as soon as he chose to rape someone. Similarly, in the wake of our country’s most recent tragedy, we can use social media to educate each other, sound off, brainstorm, and demand better protection for Americans and HUMAN BEINGS everywhere.

For my fellow Bostonians who’d like to show their support for Orlando beyond the digital world, a vigil is being held for the victims at Boston City Hall Plaza this evening at 6pm.

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