Guest Column: On Mental Health

Flag-Half-StaffLike the rest of us, my friend was deeply affected by the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He struggles every day with mental health issues, and I have been a witness to the depression and hopelessness he battles. This incredibly smart man has expressed to me before his concern about the unavailability of affordable mental health care options. This essay is written from his point of view, grounded both from living in the African American community and facing his own mental health needs. He asked to remain anonymous because of the stigmatization that comes with admitting your mental illness. If he ever makes the decision to claim this article as his own, I will be by his side to confirm him as the author.

Help is Needed Everyday, Everywhere
By Ellis C. Dawson

Andrew Kehoe, 1927. Charles Whitman, 1966. James Huberty, 1984. Patrick Purdy, 1989. George Hennard, 1991. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 1999. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, 2002. Jeffrey Weise, 2005. Seung-Hui Cho, 2007. Steven Kaczmierczak, 2008. Nidal Hassan, 2009. Anders Breivik, 2011. One Goh, James Holmes and now Adam Lanza, 2012. What do these names have in common? All have committed mass murder. With the exception of Breivik and Malvo, all were Americans. Many of which could be considered mentally unstable.

Every time a mass shooting happens on American soil, the first thing we hear is one side begging for more strict gun control and another side screaming against it. While gun ownership and the ease of acquiring a weapon should be discussed at great length, it is not the main issue at hand.

How often do we as Americans have a child that could be considered unstable? Do they act out of control? Do they throw tantrums? Do they threaten to even kill themselves and others? Having read the article by Liza Long entitled I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, it pains me to know that there are so many children across the nation who need mental help.

Parents seek mental help and their children need it without being stigmatized, ostracized, belittled, and bullied, yet they receive no help. In the cases of many children of color, they are locked up without a second thought and have the prison system make them even worse than when they went in. To illustrate my point, the three biggest facilities for mental health in 2011 were Rikers Island in New York, the Los Angeles County Jail and the Cook County Jail in Chicago.

Most of you will probably look at this article, read for a few minutes and still think that it couldn’t happen to your child, your pride and joy. They surely could never be thrown into prison when they need help. Yet people with mental health problems are imprisoned every day. Depending on income level, most who need the help probably will not get it due to a lack of money, or they will amass an insane amount of debt on medications that big pharmaceutical companies like to shove down our throats.

I did say the word “our” in the previous paragraph. All my life, I was considered weird and was never really accepted by anyone, not even family. People as children and as adults do not like others who are different from them, whether it’s a different mindset, outlook, hair, eye and skin color. We as people will always find some way to bully someone just because we can do it.

The American mindset in everything from education to money, to possessions, healthcare, even food and water is to tell people I have mine, go get yours. We have embraced the attitude that we do not help those who cannot themselves. Survival of the fittest as Darwin says. We as Americans say we need to help the poor, help the physically and mentally ill through private charity and high-quality but low-cost public services.  Yet when election time comes, it seems the first thing voters want to hear promised is to lower or eliminate entirely tax revenues. We want more of our own money, no need to give my money to those who did not earn it.

Reality check people: The more we stop focusing on ourselves and start working on our communities, even if it’s just one person at a time, then a lot of lives will be saved. Mental illness can potentially put every community at risk – upper-class suburban communities, inner cities, trailer parks. The pain is the same, but the money coming in isn’t. There must be a conscious effort made to improve all of our communities and it begins with one person, one family, and with one nation under God.

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