Monday, December 31, 2012

How to (Hopefully) End Mass Shootings

In Washington, D.C., everyone's concerned with the fiscal cliff right now. Come midnight on January 1, congress will either put unsatisfactory measures (according to everyone, I'm sure) into place, or the entire country will jump off the cliff like short-sighted, drunken lemmings. I'm not terribly worried about what will happen; everyone puts things like this off until the last possible minute, and then there's a cave-in by one or both parties.

Even if that doesn't happen this time around, I still have a (personally) more pressing worry on my mind: that the fiscal issues we're facing will make lawmakers lose track of goals related to the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut.

Here's what most concerns me. This is already a politicized issue. It was politicized within days of the shooting. Fine; such is life in this, our U.S. democracy. There appear to be two sides: people are either for stricter gun control, or they are for better, more accessible mental health care. I've heard a few crazy mentions of wanting to solve the gun problem with more guns. I've read (idiotic) arguments for more long-term hospitalizations - alone - as a solution to the American mass-murder complex. But those don't concern me either, at least not immediately.

Everything in our country gets the black-and-white treatment, for some reason. Greys are washed out till they're mostly white, or shaded till they're mostly black. But that is not the nature of life. We forget everything has a dual nature, that no one thing happens without affecting something else.

So why is it that the guns and mental health argument has two sides at all?

I don't believe the solution is one or the other. I've seen and heard others argue the same thing, but those voices aren't loud enough; they are distorted echoes in the din of election-based arguments. And it doesn't end there. It's not a matter of simply requiring background checks for every gun sold, whether online or in stores or at gun shows. It's not a matter of just combining that with cheaper mental health care and more accessible psychologists - though that would be a beautiful start.

Mental health is incredibly stigmatized to discuss, especially for men. Consider this: do you know of any woman who carried out a mass shooting? They exist, but of 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years, only one was carried out by a woman. The men who carry out such shootings must have mental health issues, to some degree - because what mentally healthy person would do such a thing?

Men seldom have to deal with discrimination in our society, but it is there, just the same. Men are told to be strong, to be stoic, to keep it inside and be tough. 

What is the point of better mental health care if those who need it most are too embarrassed to seek it out?

I mentioned to Spousal Unit that I'd love to see a first lady destigmatize mental health issues. That's what came to mind first, because it's the kind of thing a first lady would take on, and it seems like the fastest, surest way to make a real change. Laws cannot change public perception.

But that won't help in this case - at least, not as fully as it could. This kind of thing needs to be led by a man, someone willing to step into the spotlight (or at least not run from it) as he discusses mental health, his personal struggles, and says outright that being strong doesn't mean ignoring your weaknesses. If we have a first gentleman in the near future, this would be a perfect job for him.

That said, I really don't care who steps up and takes it on, as long as someone does. Mental health has been stigmatized long enough; it's time we stop being afraid to talk about it.

And where better to start than here? I deal with depression. How about you?

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