Monday, December 17, 2012

Now is the Time

Last Friday, something truly horrific happened in our country.

By now I'm sure we're all familiar with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and surely you have heard facts, speculation, and rumors about the details of the shooting, the shooter, and the circumstances that led to the horror.

The thing is... We don't know the whole story.

What we know so far is pieces colored by inaccurate reporting the day of the shooting. What we've done with it is what we do: declare our expert opinion as to how to keep this from ever happening again. Ever, ever.

The problem is that there is no one answer.

Among my friends, the "access to mental health services" drum started beating first. While there has been no official declaration that the shooter suffered a specific mental illness, I think it makes us feel better to believe that no sane person could possibly do such a thing. How can we possibly live in a world where a person as "normal" as you or I could perpetrate such an atrocity? The problem is when we jump to the assumption that someone who commits a violent act is mentally ill, you are also perpetuating the assumption that the mentally ill are prone to violence.

Which is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that this thinking further stigmatizes mental illness and the mentally ill, making it both harder to get treatment and less likely that those who need it will seek it. Who wants to stand up and say "Yes, I'm like that guy"?

Having said that, please understand, absolutely, I believe there needs to be significantly greater access to mental health services than there is now. I believe this for a number of reasons, most of which relate more to the quality of life of the person that requires services and that person's friends and family.

Access to mental health services is woefully lacking in our country, as is insurance coverage for services.

Unfortunately, even when access to and coverage for services is available, answers to mental health issues are not always easy. I am sure everyone reading this can think of at least one person you know who has struggled to get a mental illness under control. Sometimes it's our kids, or siblings, grandparents, cousins, friends. How many of us have seen a loved one struggle with medications, therapy, even commitment and incarceration due to mental illness?

There are two articles that go into this in more detail, both of which have been circulating pretty widely lately: Thinking the Unthinkable (often labeled as "I am Adam Lanza's Mother") and You are Not Adam Lanza's Mother.

Yes, access to and coverage for mental health services are vital issues that need to be discussed. But this will not resolve the continuing issue that mental health services are unable to successfully manage all illnesses.

Even if it could, what do we do with individuals who do not feel they need help or do not want help? Various forms of mental illness carry with them the feeling that the individual is fine, thank you, and does not desire nor require your pills, potions, or assistance.

What then?

Are we really comfortable going back to locking people up because they are "potentially dangerous"?

Are you?

The next obvious answer is gun control. While very few people get fired up when you suggest there needs to be greater access to mental health services, plenty of Americans voice their outrage if anyone dares to suggest that access to guns be limited.

Even if stricter gun control laws manage to get passed, we've all seen how effective the "War on Drugs" has been. Are we really so delusional that we expect gun control laws to be any more effective? If you're unsure, maybe do some research to see how many gun related deaths, particularly incidents of mass shootings, involved firearms that were legally obtained by the perpetrator.

If you've been following this blog, you know that I have "seasonal allergies" or "hay fever". Allergy medications have been a life saver for me for years. Until I was told to stop using it, pseudoepherine was the drug I used most frequently. Because I used it so much, I would buy extra if it was on sale. Until laws were passed restricting the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine because it is used in the manufacture of methamphetamines.

Federal law restricts the sale of a common over the counter allergy medication used without incident by allergy sufferers, but any person can purchase ammunition in any quantity without showing any form of identification.

I cannot be the only person that sees a problem with this.

Here is the biggest problem we're facing:

This is not a simple issue, and there is no simple resolution.

The only answer that will effectively move us away from the level of gun violence we've seen in the last few years is an answer that's multifaceted, complex, and responsive.

And that's hard.

It's hard to have these discussions. It's hard to find these solutions. It's hard to implement them in the face of people who are so self-righteously indignant that they cannot see reason or logic through the haze of their perceived loss of "rights".

But now is the time.

Now is the time to have these conversations.

Now is the time to work towards these solutions.

Now is the time to step towards fixing ourselves.

Now is the time.

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