Sunday, December 16, 2012

The state of mental health

There isn't a person I know who hasn't been touched by the tragedy that happened last Friday in Newton, CT. Like most, I've spent hours pouring over the information released by the press, hoping to find some reason for these senseless killings and the abrupt end of lives that were just beginning. I cried when the names were released, thinking of the parents who's arms were now empty. And I've been angry; angry that despite the signs, this was not prevented.

There's been a lot of focus on gun control in the US since Friday. Many blog posts have been quick to point the finger at the NRA, the laxed attitude to gun regulations and have called for change from our nation's lawmarkers. I'm not saying that this isn't important nor that it isn't something we should be talking about. But what has disturbed me is how many people have once again refused to addressed a key issue: how the US treats the mentally ill.

Since our miscarriages and failed cycles, Grey and I have both been in counseling. I've talked before about how therapy has been a life-saver, preventing me from dwelling too long in the dark pit of despair and giving me the tools I need to heal and live. What I haven't talked about is how much of therapy is not covered by insurance. How much of it is covered out of pocket, resulting in huge monthly bills. We are fortunate that we are able to prioritize seeking help, but with each bill I'm reminded how unavailable counseling and psychotherapy is to the general public.

A lot of this has to do with how our culture views mental illness. It should not come as a surprise that ~60% of the convicts occupying our prison system suffer from a mental disorder, which is 5 times higher than the general populous. Even within the general populous, mental illness is always talked about in hushed tones, with families refusing to seek help simply out of shame.

The thing is, like any preventative care, the sooner an individual is able to be diagnosed and receive help, the better the outcome. Granted, it's never an easy road, but I have witnessed families rally around an individual, providing support and addressing ancient demons only to conquer and thrive. In some cases, it's simply a matter of counseling. In others, more aggressive intervention is required. But at the end of the day, the outcome is always better than ignoring the problem.

Adam Lanza was not a demonic monster; he was a human being who was in a great deal of pain. I'm not excusing what he did nor condoning anyone who chooses to take lives. But to hear that he was isolated, without friends, so painfully shy that he couldn't speak without anxiety and was forgettable. Well, my heart breaks there too. And I can't help but think "what if." What if someone had reached out to Adam, offering a kind word or letting him know they were available to talk? What if someone had pushed Nancy Lanza to seek help for her "difficult son?" What if a judge had mandated family counseling following the Lanza's 2008 divorce?

What if we stopped assuming that mental illness isn't a problem or is simply that individual's problem and started demanding that help be available to all?

My heart is heavy for the members of Newton, CT. My heart is heavy for the families that lost too much. But I am also tired of us passing the blame. Yes, gun violence in this nation is awful and we need to address it. But no one who takes another individuals life willingly is mentally well. And if we don't address the root of the problem, nothing will change.

Agree with me or not, please take a moment this week to contact your Congressmen/women and let them know that we need change. It was too much with Aurora, CO. It was too much with Virginia Tech. And it was too much with Columbine, CO. Enough is enough.


  1. I am totally on the same page as you. The minute I heard about this, my first statement out loud was, "guns didn't cause this, mental illness did." No one wants to talk about mental illness. No one wants to talk about the root cause of actions like these. They just want to talk about the TOOL that was used to carry this out. The tool is not the problem - the mind behind that tool is. I will not say that our gun laws/controls are safe - I don't think they necessarily are in every state. But let's face it on this one - all of those guns were LEGALLY obtained by his mother. Stricter gun laws wouldn't have changed a thing in this situation, and it's blind of people to think they would have. Mental care, medication, and counseling could have very likely prevented this entire situation.

    Great post. It's refreshing to see someone focusing on the REAL issue here.

  2. It always makes me sad to hear, after a tragedy like this, that there were signs that something was wrong. That the person(s) behind it was "troubled" but no one did anything about it. That if someone had reached out, sought help, this could have been prevented.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more about the mental illness. We can take away all guns in the world and it doesn't change one thing if we don't tackle mental illness head on in this nation.

  4. What I'd like to see is someone leading the charge on looking at the epidemic of mass shootings in this country from a holistic point of view. Mental illness is a huge part of the issue - I don't think anyone calling for stricter gun regulations is denying that (this touching blog post demonstrates the mental health issue in terrifying, crystal clear fashion: Access to guns and gun regulations, plus the omnipotent power of the NRA, are also a big part of the issue. Another part of the issue is perhaps the media. Then there are many unknown factors.

    I get uncomfortable when I see anyone beating the drum for any one issue over another. All of these factors are so important and deserve equal time under the light of scrutiny. The truth of the matter is that we don't know why mass shootings are increasing (here's a great post on that: but someone needs to start taking a serious look, and then tying that to action. Otherwise, I seriously fear nothing will ever change. If the loss of those 20 precious lives in Newtown doesn't start to incite some change, I can't think what will.

    1. Also, to those who believe enacting stricter gun laws won't prevent a tragedy like this in the future, I urge you to look to the real-life example of Australia, 1996:

  5. Cristy, I want to thank you for writing this. I completely agree. I also want to thank Shelley for her reply above - very interesting information.

  6. What I really want people to examine is how much we have lost our way with caring for each other. You can't tell me that no one in Adam Lanza's life was aware that he was capable of such violence. Someone saw signs. Someone suspected he had this inside of him. Yet people didn't intervene. They "minded their own business" and kept it to themselves. If people had spoken up and gotten him some intervention, this might have never happened. Additionally, what the hell was his mother doing keeping guns in a house with someone who is mentally ill? When did we lose our common sense?

  7. I had this exact conversation with my mom the other day. Yes, guns are an issue- but mental illness is the main issue here. It's sad. It's not fair. And it needs to be fixed. You can count me in for writing one of those letters Cristy.

  8. It honestly kills me that it is so difficult for so many people to get the help they need, and that even for those who can gain access to help - there are often so many hoops they have to jump through first. Hoops that someone with true mental illness is not likely going to jump through. Our country is so broken right now, in so many different ways. There are so many changes that need to be made, but I fear we have gotten so caught up this dual party "us" vs "them" mentality that those changes will never actually be made.


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