Monday, October 5, 2015

"Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It's the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with." Adam Ant

Another week, another massacre at a school. This time, at a little town in Oregon, in a community college.  What "can't happen here", did happen there, and I fear that it will continue to happen throughout our 50 states.  Why? It seems that just as Americans have become accustomed to TV violence through the years,  yet have learned to disassociate that violence from their own lives, so also have school shootings ceased to shock Americans in the same way in which Columbine shocked the nation back on April 20, 1999.  When the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings occurred on December 14, 2012 (woe, the tragedy of those young and innocent children - absolutely heart breaking), it seemed that the nation was poised to have an open dialogue about mental illness.  But still, it did not happen.

I think mental illness is what needs to be recognized and addressed.  Not tomorrow, and not next week or next year. Now.

Because mental illness does not have easily observable and traditional symptoms of illness like cough, fever, hives, etc., and because many family members do not want to recognize that a child or parent or sibling is suffering from mental illness, as that would mean having to admit and address the problem, many who suffer from various forms of mental illness do not receive the care they need.  Our nation still has a mindset which labels mental illness as something so negative that it must be hidden from society.  I am unclear on why Americans are not willing to open their minds to the notion that mental illness is as common as influenza, which carries no stigma.  As a society, many now accept, and even embrace, the LGBT community, yet mental illness remains not only a family secret, but in some families, a disgrace.  The media has given viewers a glimpse into the lives of all of the shooters in every instance, and the one common thread has been mental illness.  In many cases, the parents and family members knew about the problems, but did not act, or did not act appropriately or in a timely fashion. 

When the news of Robin Williams' suicide was announced, I hoped that Americans would see that depression, bipolar, and other phobias should be openly discussed, with forums to discuss and brainstorm ideas, make a plan, and help those who are suffering. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

The government and insurance companies are doing virtually nothing in the way of addressing mental illness. But, as individuals, we can!  Start a conversation.  Discuss your feelings on the topic of mental illness, and ask questions.  As teachers, share your concerns about students with principals and guidance counselors. After all, our schools are merely microcosms of our society, and as much as we would like to think that all of our students are perfect physically and mentally, that simply is not true.  

FACT: The Kim Foundation states that 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 18 suffers from a diagnosable disorder in any given year.  That number translates into 26.2 % of Americans, which equals 57.7 million people. 

I firmly believe the number  of Americans suffering from some form of mental illness is too large to ignore. I also believe that if we, as teachers, can help our society to begin to a discussion about mental illness, and to accept it as a true illness, not as a stigma, we can help others to be more open to accept it as well. The problem of mental illness is bigger than any person or even the government;  the solution has to begin with everyday people who have the ability to have thousands of interactions with others every day.  Teachers have long been aware of the students who have issues, and teachers also know that persuading parents to address those issues is never easy. Teachers must not give up, for we can be the start of the movement to address mental illness. Teachers have a tremendous influence, and we can become the seeds of a grassroots campaign of awareness and acceptance of mental illness.

Mental illness is not "someone else's problem." It is up to us.  

Representative Tim Murphy, who is a psychologist, is a Pennsylvania government official working toward a mental health plan.  You can read about his efforts at this link. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: "People with mental health problems are almost never dangerous. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators. At the same time, mental illness has been the common denominator in one act of mass violence after another. "  Roy Blunt

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