Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We are Newtown

The proverbial rock under which we have been hiding has been kicked away by the latest spate of violence to visit our nation.

The wake up call does not have to be a political donnybrook over who needs firearms or over whose individual rights are being compromised for the sake of our collective safety. This wake up call, however, does not necessitate the creation of yet another feel-good commission that claims to listen to people but has about as much bite as a toddler gumming away at a chew toy.

The central issue of this tragedy, and those leading to it, is in our minds. I am not saying that this is an imaginary problem, but I am saying that our mental health is at stake in a crisis of confidence that our nation is experiencing at this time. We have no problem with going to a doctor when our nose runs, our stomach cramps or our muscles ache. We, however, continue to ignore the illnesses and maladies that plague our minds. We stigmatize those who indeed recognize and seek treatment for the unseen disease that kills more than just those it directly affects.

We may joke about being crazy, loony or psycho, but the joke simply isn't funny any more when the basket-weaving stereotypes are challenged by a more deadly side effect of our naive attitudes about mental health.

For those who say that our resources cannot sustain increased investment in real mental heath, I would reply that our criminal justice system is already paying the hefty price of delegating mental health services to a line item with no perspective of the toll that mental illness is taking on those who suffer from it and those who become its collateral damage.

I was listening to Dr. Jeff Gardere explaining it more eloquently when he said that mentally ill people are treated more like criminals than patients. He bemoaned the fact that he had to advise families to call the police to best serve their loved ones in times of crisis and serious need.

Could you imagine calling the police to help someone who is having a heart attack? Could you imagine jailing someone who is suffering from appendicitis? Could you imagine that? We are already doing this for many sick people who need medical help. If there is any change to be made to help us learn from Newtown, the change needs to be in our thinking about mental health.

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