Today’s news featured another mass shooting, this one right here in my own state. Another. Mass. Shooting. I have such a problem with writing those words. It keeps happening, over, and over, and over, with this story. Right now, little is known about the shooter in this case, and as details unfold I’m sure we’ll see one of the standard narratives about gun control and preventing “people like this” from getting weapons. But my guess is there will be that equally common secondary narrative: this person was troubled.
Mental health is the biggest elephant-in-the-room issue we have maybe EVER experienced as a nation. Sure, it comes up and we talk about how we need to do more about making mental health less stigmatized and increasing awareness and acceptability, yeah yeah yeah. Do we actually DO anything about it though?
Even in my own circles, including family and close friends, it’s difficult to talk about mental health related issues. When there’s not something visible or tangible for an outsider to measure, it’s more difficult to convey a sense of your struggles. And all too often, those of us struggling with stages or guises of depression will hear “why are you sad, everything is so good for you?” Dismissiveness, whether intentional or not, is the most common response. Worse are those times when your struggles are actually held against you, as if there’s something wrong with YOU for having a different ability to cope with things in your life.
Most often, these responses train us to keep quiet, to bottle up the hard times and internalize our issues. We fear seeking help, because the help we’ve already tried to ask for from the people close to us has been a non-starter. If even our loved ones aren’t prepared or willing to accept our struggles as real, how can we approach someone further from the center of our circles, much less someone we don’t even know?
Getting help is key for mental health issues. We are unequipped to self-service when chemicals in our bodies and our brains don’t function as intended. No amount of daily affirmations or “just stop being sad” can turn that around – but our very support systems challenge us to be satisfied with stuffing the cries for help back into ourselves. It’s no wonder we are seeing so many people lashing out, often violently, when faced with the pressure of concealing or self-tending a mental health issue.
It’s about time we really start stepping up to be more understanding, more caring, more compassionate. Yes, some mental health issues are frightening and challenging and difficult to experience as a third party – but try to imagine being the person who has to live with those issues. If you’re scared or distressed by someone in your life who is struggling, I can guarantee they are feeling the same emotions on an even greater scale. Reach out to them, comfort them, tell them you are there and ready to listen, to talk, to adjust, to hug, to be whatever they need.
That old “be the change” quote isn’t just a flashy saying.
Make it your goal.