It’s not just about guns

Two months have passed since I last blogged. Seven weeks ago today I had surgery to replace both my knees. And, what a journey it has been. I am still processing many lessons I am learning from this journey and I will blog about some of them another time. Today I would like to talk not about physical health, but mental health.

Like most people, I have been deeply saddened by the violence and tragic mass shootings in 2012. In the beginnings of this new year, it seems that there are almost daily reports of someone entering a school, a restaurant parking lot or an office building armed to kill.

This culture of violence has sparked a vigorous debate on the place of guns in our society. Gun advocates and those desiring for greater gun control have been vociferous in defending their positions. There have even been pockets of real dialogue and open discussion. In the midst of these horrible tragedies, there may be hope that something good will come from the debate, leading to a safer environment for all of us.

In all of the clamor about guns, however, there have been quieter voices raising another concern, one that I think is truly the more serious issue, that is, the issue of mental health–the treatment and care of people who are mentally ill. One cannot read even cursorily about the killer at Sandy Hook or the Aurora theatre without realizing that they each had serious mental health issues. (For one mom’s perspective, see Calenthia’s earlier post here http://www.theologicalcurves.com/2012/12/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-by-liza-long/) An in-depth look raises many questions about the support individuals and families can access when faced with mental health issues, either from insurance companies, federal, state and local governments, and even churches, families and friends. Often, families and individuals are left to fend for themselves, running into more hurdles and roadblocks than actual help.

In the past few weeks, as the issue of gun safety has rightly been front-page news, there have been just as many headlines about mental health issues; only they haven’t gotten quite as much attention. The failure of our society to adequately address mental health issues was highlighted again in the Twin Cities this week with the memorial service of Peter Linnerooth, himself a psychologist with a history of working with veterans suffering from mental health issues, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. In his work advocating for soldiers, he served a tour in Iraq during the height of the conflict there, returning to the US severely traumatized by his experiences. As he struggled to cope and get help, while at the same time continuing to work with other veterans, he was overwhelmed with his own mental health issues, committing suicide on January 2nd. A mental health activist, he knew first-hand the obstacles to getting effective treatment and support. In 2010, Time Magazine published an article on the difficulties in obtaining effective mental health treatment for military personnel. Linnerooth was interviewed for that article. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008886,00.html

In a subsequent article reflecting on Linnerooth’s life and death, Time noted that the incidence of suicide of active duty troops reached its highest level in 2012 at 349. While the NRA was lobbying for armed guards in every school, the American School Counselor Association failed to get enough signatures to support school counselors in every public school.

I hope that the debate about gun control continues. I also hope that mental health issues get as much attention in our public discourse.