Photo by Cheryl Casey
(This post was written last month but not published. Of course, it is still just as relevant…)
Many people have shared a Facebook post this weekend attributed to Morgan Freeman, encouraging us to forget the name of the person who attacked the school in Connecticut. His last paragraph says, “You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.”
While I agree with most of the statement, I don’t like that it seems to be encouraging us to forget this troubled young person and the terrible effects of mental illness on his life, his family, the lives of those he killed, their families, everyone else involved in the aftermath, and all of us whose hearts break for every life lost.
It’s a lot like having a horrible odor in your house and just putting a clothespin on your nose instead of searching for the source of the smell. The smell won’t go away because you put a clothespin on your nose, right? You’ll go about your way for a little while, but eventually you’re going to notice it again. And seriously, how many of us would admit out loud to actual people that we believe ignoring a problem will make it go away? Anyone? <crickets chirping…>
Writing off Adam Lanza or Jacob Tyler Roberts as simply “evil”, or as non-persons, or as jerks who “just wanted to be famous”, is an easy, comfortable way to keep from dealing with the issue of mental illness. It’s like smelling that awful smell I mentioned before and saying to yourself, “Oh, it’s probably just a dead rat in the cupboard under the sink. If I don’t look at it or think about it, everything will be fine.” Raise your hand if this is how YOU would handle a dead rat in your kitchen. Anyone? Yeah.
Thinking about a dead rat problem can make people feel uncomfortable. It would be much easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. But, you have to get out the shovel and the bucket and take care of it, because if you leave it the situation won’t improve. It will get stinkier. There will be unpleasant things living in it. Germs will swirl around your home. Your family could be adversely affected.
Now, perhaps comparing mental illness to a dead rat isn’t the BEST analogy in general (although those of us who experience mental illness pretty much think it stinks). The point is, if something affects our lives or the lives of our families, we don’t usually ignore it.
We do something about it. <Gets rubber gloves and bucket>.
We ask for or encourage others to help. <”Honey, I’ll give you a big smooch if you remove this dead rat! I’ll even hold the bucket if you bring me one of those respirator thingies so I don’t have to smell it!”>
We feel free to voice our feelings and opinions. <”Ohmygosh there was a humongous dead rat in my kitchen cupboard and it smelled and I had to LOOK at it and it was yucky and it was THERE and I had to deal with it! Dead rats are hard to deal with!”>
We inform ourselves and then gladly inform and help others. <”Yeah, so you get your rubber gloves and a bucket, and maybe a shovel, but if it’s not too far gone you can just pick it up by the tail and put it into the bucket, but be super careful, and be sure not to LOOK at it too much because it will be really gross! Here’s a link to an informative and helpful website about stinky dead thing removal! You can get through this!”>
So, let’s start taking mental illness as seriously as we would a dead rat in our cupboard, or, say, any other chronic-but- treatable-with-various-methods illness like asthma; or any other scary-and-possibly-life-threatening illness like breast cancer. Let’s encourage medical professionals to do more research to find out how to better treat and prevent mental illness. Let’s not leave the mentally ill and their families ashamed, afraid, and alone, no matter what they’ve done. Instead of telling the media to close the cupboard and leave the kitchen, let’s ask that they dispense accurate information about mental illness so we can better help people before illness ruins their lives and takes others down with them. And let’s take the responsibility to educate ourselves with accurate information.
And by “accurate”, I mean “accurate”. NOT myths, NOT things like “Everyone with any kind of mental illness is bad and stupid and they all want to shoot people or jump out of a moving car on the freeway because they think they’re Jesus, and they will bite me if I’m kind to them” and NOT “There’s nothing wrong with that kid that a lot more discipline wouldn’t cure – those parents just need to wise up.” and NOT “There’s no such thing as mental illness, those people just need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and figure it out because they’re just lazy and they could do it if they tried.” These ideas are as valid as “Dead rats go into your cupboard to die on purpose because they’re mean and they know it will annoy you.”
Remember that illness can affect anyone, in any neighborhood, in any income bracket, at any age. Remember that dealing with a problem is a lot smarter than going around with clothespins on our noses. “There, but for the grace of God, goes (Your Name Here).”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness website is a great place to start learning more.