Friday, December 14, 2012

How do you treat an injured Soul?

(Expanded on from a Google+ post)

This is becoming trite. As the story unfolds in Connecticut we're going to learn that the shooter showed signs of mental illness that went unaddressed.

The reason they went unaddressed is because culturally we have two views on mental health: you are normal or you are crazy. If you seem to fall in between your choices are to try to seem normal, or risk being looked on with shame and lose all your credibility. Worse still, it's a reasonable fear that you might risk being hospitalized against your will if you're determined to be a threat to yourself or others.

Socially, we consider consulting your doctor about physical health problems a sign of good judgement. It's not uncommon for friends and family to come to the aid of someone with a sprained ankle with useful advice. "Put ice on it to reduce the swelling." "Wrap it with a bandage for support." "Take it easy for a while and let me help you." Most importantly, "If it doesn't improve, we'll go to the doctor."

In contrast, consulting a behavioral doctor carries a risk as mentioned above. If we admit we're "crazy", we risk embarrassing our loved ones, being considered incompetent by our peers, and harming what's already a trouble ego.

We don't accept mental and emotional problems as "normal" and thus we don't have normal modes of support. We don't know how to help each other with these problems the way we do a sprained ankle. They go untreated, often until the problem has grown significant that even the appearance of normal function has fallen out of reach.

The tragedy we've seen in Connecticut is clearly the culmination of mental illness, yet we all suffer smaller, more subtle problems. At best our problems won't grow more severe; they'll merely keep us from success and happiness.

We need to:

  • change our views about mental and emotional health;
  • accept that mental and emotional health problems are normal;
  • acknowledge that we all suffer from mental and emotional health problems that we cannot always bear alone;
  • learn about common mental health issues the way we've learned about common injuries;
  • accept that we may need to accept the help of strangers;
  • look upon people that need help with compassion.
Stop looking away. Face your own problems and the problems of your loved ones. With different attitudes we can not only avert the rare tragedy, we can all be more happy, successful, and empowered.


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    1. Some people really do need medication, at least in the medium term. The awful process of getting the right medication is another thing altogether.

      What's infuriating is the continued notion that we should just "suck it up", and that even acknowledging our own flaws, no matter how slight, is an admission of weakness - an acceptance of failure.

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  3. In the U.S., there are 3 suicides for every 2 homicides. If people want to worry about what's potentially going to kill them, worrying about the lack of mental health care availability makes more sense than worrying about being murdered.

    Even if people limit themselves to worrying about what is likely to kill their kids, suicide would top the list were it not for motor vehicle accidents. Starting at the age of ten, kids are more likely to kill themselves than to be murdered. ...and this is no 3:2 ratio. Kids are far less likely to be involved in homicides and so the ratio is more like 5:1.

    ...and, as cases like this point out, just because it's a homicide rather than a suicide doesn't mean it isn't still a mental health issue.


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