This is a hard time for me to be trying to write, personally and in context of the constant barrage of bad news.
What could I possibly write that brings any insight into the events of the day? Lately I can barely read a full article. I swipe through my RSS feed, scanning headlines.
I get angry so much, but this week, it’s sorrow and confusion that fill me.
I worked in policing and have had a laser focus on mental health issues since realizing in high school my moods were probably depression.
I have spent hours reading about the trend to deinstitutionalize residential mental health centers in the middle of last century, a move that shifted the burden of the severely mentally ill to the criminal justice system.
I have ruminated over the practice of police officers responding to a mental health crisis, some with guns raised, being put in a position to make judgments about the psychology of a person, with very little training in psychology.
Police, probing the minds of people at their breaking point, looking for keywords they can use to show a danger to self or others to justify slapping on handcuffs and forcefully transporting them.
I’ve watched the videos of people gunned down in a moment of chaos by officers unequipped to handle the situation, or too jaded to see the human being at the other end of the gun.
I’ve spoken to people who have experienced involuntary committals. When the help we need comes at the hand of untrained, unsympathetic enforcers with weapons, is it helping, or does it traumatize those already hurting?
There are no monsters here.
Violence is committed by human beings. Glossing over the messy, complicated disasters that bring about the kind of violence that happened in Florida does us no favors.
Sure, it’s easy to say he was deranged or crazy. Hindsight tags him weird. We can’t come close to imagining the motivation behind such a heinous act, so we put it in a box with a simplified label.
Nothing in this life is so simple, and people spend lifetimes trying to understand why people behave the ways they do. But it is clear to anyone who looks, our institutions are failing to address mental health (and spiritual health) as a basic, necessary, and underserved part of an individual’s holistic well being.
Mental health is not adequately supported by our health care systems. It is a public health issue that is being fumbled by a broken criminal justice system.
The only time we seem to raise the issue is after an avoidable act of violence. Our policies are not in line with our problems. This is a societal problem, not one that can be isolated to any one individual or group of individuals.
Gun violence, too, is a public health issue. The rate of gun violence is many times more than variables like our wealth as a nation would predict. We need laws and policies that reflect this. The current laws are not effective, and our current lawmakers are deliberately not addressing it. There’s an elephant in the room, and it has lots of dollar signs.
Where mental health issues and gun violence intersect, we find a chorus of voices decrying the mentally ill who have access to weapons of mass slaughter. That tiny slice of the full picture is not enough to solve this problem.
We have to hold our representatives accountable for the actions they are taking.
We have to address the money that lubricates the political process.
We have to fund our public health responses, reform the institutions that are ineffective, and start supporting our most valuable resource and greatest power — our fellow human beings.
Some of those human beings need more help than others, but that is the point of a society. We all thrive, or none of us do.