What the hell is going on?
Another school shooting. Another church shooting. Parents killing their own children. Children killing their parents.
Most of these stories don’t even affect us much anymore. Unless the story is particularly disturbing.
The so-called “Las Vegas Shooter” is still capturing headlines. And the entire world took notice of that atrocity. A man who decided to just start firing into a crowd of concert goers from a hotel window. So many innocent people were killed and injured. Of course the world noticed. It was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
And in the aftermath, plenty of questions have been raised. How did he get the guns? What was he angry about? Did he have any accomplices? The questions just go on and on. And the blame does too. Just this week the man who sold the shooter the ammunition was arrested.
Blame the guns. Blame the ammunition. Blame the man who sold the ammunition.
Blame the hotel. Blame the staff for not noticing the shooter was suspicious.
There’s always plenty of blame to go around.
And there are always plenty of questions to be answered too.
But through it all. We’re missing the obvious.
Now, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a statement about blaming or not blaming. I have no idea if the ammunition maker broke the law. And I’m not here to make a statement in favor or against guns either. I’m also not going to pretend to know whether the hotel or anyone else was negligent and/or complicit.
But we have to recognize that this shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum and it is not an isolated incident. Mass shootings are becoming all too familiar.
But many people will quickly counter that overall the violent crime rate has dropped since 1996. Overall, fewer people are being assaulted and killed. So, it’s sometimes argued, society isn’t in trouble.
But do you know what rate is going through the roof right now?
The suicide rate.
The suicide rate in the United States increased by 24% from 1999 until 2014. And in the last couple of years, it’s continued to increase.
But it’s not just a problem in the United States. All over the world the suicide rate is rising. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over the last 45 years, the suicide rate has grown by 60%. About one million people die from suicide each year. One million! That means a person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. And it’s estimated that by 2020, that number will rise to a suicide every 20 seconds. 90% of all suicides involve a mental health disorder (usually substance abuse and/or depression).
That is 90%. 90%!
I didn’t bother to look for a statistics to back this up, but I would be willing to bet that 100% of mass murders suffer from some type of mental disorder. T
And yet we hear so little about mental health. Sure, it gets in the news sometimes. But the problem is largely ignored and/or misunderstood both in the news and in society.
Addiction is another topic that has too little attention. Lately, the opioid problem has been a topic of discussion in the United States. But again it’s not enough and the point is being missed.
What do mass shootings, suicide, and addiction all have in common?
We have a mental health crisis going on right now and so few people even realize it.We’ll just plug ourselves into our phones, which makes us even sicker (by the way), and refuse to see the obvious.
Part of the problem is the stigma around mental health issues. As a society, we rally around those with cancer and point out their strength. Someone has a heart attack and survives we all feel sympathy for that person and understand they have to change their life. But depression is often seen as a weakness. And other mental health issues are misunderstood and simply labeled as crazy. Yes, we’re getting better about understanding mental health problems but we’re nowhere near where we need to be.
Too often we just think: Well, that person needs to get help and deal with it.
But we don’t realize how difficult it actually is to get help.
First of all, many people who are struggling mentally think they are weak. So, they don’t even try to get help because they’ve been conditioned to think it’s bad to talk about their thoughts.
But for those who do try to get help, it’s not easy.
Did you know this country is currently suffering from a shortage of psychiatrists?
I can personally attest to this.
A couple years ago when my oldest child was really struggling, I took him to our family doctor for his depression and anxiety. I told the doctor I wanted to take my child to a psychiatrist. So, the nurse brought me in a list with about 8 psychiatrists listed and told me to call whichever one I wanted to get an appointment.
So, the next day I started calling.
3 numbers no longer worked. One number was right but we couldn’t make an appointment because we lived in the wrong county. So, I called my county’s mental health department and was told we first had to see a counselor for 3 months and then the counselor could make an appointment with the county psychiatrist, if necessary. I couldn’t wait 3 months so I called the other numbers. Two of the numbers were no longer accepting new patients and the last one was a cell phone of a doctor who had moved to Boston (over 10 hours away) and wanted to know how I got her personal cell number.
Now, this is a list given to me by my doctor’s office. A doctor’s office with at least 5 doctors and hundreds, if not thousands, of patients. And this is the list they gave me!
I had no choice but to go through the county and wait.
My child was bordering on being suicidal and was struggling with daily life. Yet, I had to wait over 3 months. 3 months for medication. 3 months to just speak to a psychiatrist and get some guidance. And once that 3 months was up, the psychiatrist only had time to see my child every couple of months.
I know society preaches to cry for help if someone feels desperate. And the hotlines are a great resource. Hospitals have come a long way with how they deal with potentially suicidal patients too. And there are plenty of great counselors available as well.
We have each end of the spectrum covered – licensed professionals who can help those with less acute issues and hospitals and hotlines who can handle crises.
But what about the middle? What about those who suffer silently from daily thoughts of violence to their own person or others? What’s the answer for these people? In the short term, I don’t know. But I do have a thought about the long term.
My answer isn’t about the shortage of psychiatrists. Thankfully it’s not.
My thoughts are about the main issue of us not even trying to be mentally healthy. Schools don’t teach it. And society doesn’t model it. Society doesn’t even talk about it. That’s a problem and that problem leads to the solution.
But society has never focused on mental health. Not really. So, why is it a problem now?
Talk to religious people and they will tell you it’s because we took God out of society and society is less religious with each passing year.
This answer is kinda right, but not completely.
I do believe losing God and religion has played a major role in this crisis but it’s not because following God keeps us all good. And this crisis isn’t a punishment from God.
And I’m not going to bash religion either. Religion is a major source of strength for people and it serves a beautiful role for many people.
But I think we can all agree that religion also controls people. I’m not saying this control is good or bad. I’m not judging it. I am simply saying religion absolutely controls the thoughts and actions of people. It also provides comfort for people.
So the removal of religion and God will obviously have the opposite effect. People feeling alone. People not being controlled by anything. And it also causes people to seek fulfillment in empty places like money or fame or accomplishments. It leads to people feeling disenfranchised, unfulfilled and unhappy. This leads to everything from rudeness to people in Walmart to addictions to road rage to suicide to mass killings.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The one major disservice that religion has done to many people is that it’s caused people to forget about their own power. We’ve stopped realizing just how beautiful we are. Each one of us. And the power of our own minds has been lost.
The key to feeling good about ourselves is inside of each of us. We all have strength and beauty. We’re all perfect in our own unique way. Right now. Not when we earn our first million or get 800 friends on Facebook or land our dream job. We are perfect right now. Right where we are. Right here and now!
But finding our own inner happiness can only be done with ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us. Counselors can help. Psychiatrists can really help. Even drugs can seem to help. But ultimately it’s up to us. And no matter what each person might think, we all have the power to do it.
Now, I’m not saying not to seek help. In fact, seeing a counselor is a great thing. I do it regularly. And I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.
I’m also not saying that anti-depressants or other drugs are bad. They are a good thing and necessary for some people. There is certainly no weakness involved with taking medicine to help someone mentally. But I am saying we shouldn’t just prescribe and take a medicine and then be done with it.
Let’s be honest: We don”t have enough psychiatrists now to see everyone who isn’t feeling well mentally. And counselors would be overwhelmed too, if everyone who needed help mentally decided to go to a counselor. Plus, spending 45 minutes or an hour every week or month isn’t enough help.
We need to know that we can help ourselves too. We need to understand the power of our own minds and that we have the answers inside of us. The answers for how to feel more fulfilled and happy. The answer to no longer feeling disconnected and alone.
The answers are in our minds. We just have to look for them and listen.
So, how is this done?
Well, there are plenty of self-help books on the market. There are also a lot of videos on YouTube. I especially like the Ted Talks. And breathing techniques help me a lot. As does meditation. But the key is finding what really works for you. Start with YouTube (it’s free) and see what rings true for you. See what seems to be right for you.
Because, by the way, listening to our inner voices is another thing most of us have lost. I know I was taught (in my conservative Catholic home) that I had to listen to what the Church taught and not listen to myself. If I felt something that went against the Church or even kinda went against the Church then that feeling was evil. It was the devil. I learned to not trust my own feelings and my own voice. I learned to let the Church be that voice. (I know this works for a lot of people and their beliefs are beautiful and that’s wonderful. I’m not making a statement about the Church or any other religion/faith. I’m just speaking about my own personal experience.)
It really is all in our minds. And the sooner we figure this out. The better off we’ll all be.
We should even start to teach our children these lessons.
I think on some level we know this. That’s what the “everyone gets a trophy” crap is about. It’s what the shower kids with compliments is all about.
But we’re totally missing the point.
It’s not about teaching kids they have value because they get a trophy no matter what. It’s not about refusing to keep score in a soccer match so that kids don’t feel like losers (or winners, by the way).
It’s about teaching kids that they are still worthy and wonderful and awesome even if they don’t get a trophy. It’s about teaching them they can and should still feel good even if they lose a game. It’s about teaching them they are every bit as perfect when they lose as when they win. No trophy or lack of a trophy is ever going to make a real difference.
It’s also about teaching kids that they don’t need a cell phone to be happy. They don’t need an xbox either. Or a BMW. Or anything. All they need is inside. That’s it.
So, why isn’t mental health taught in schools? Why don’t more parents teach it? I mean, specific tools kids can and should use? Most likely because it doesn’t even occur to us. But it’s time for everyone to wake-up.
We must teach kids how to handle stress through breathing and positive self aspirations. Teach them how to practice self-care and self-compassion. Teach them to meditate and pray (to God or the universe or to themselves). Teach them to journal and to paint and to play and to sing and to dance. Because art is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t matter if they are “good” or “bad at it. The artist can simply love making art – that’s all that matters. Who might judge the art one some level shouldn’t matter at all.
Give kids the tools and teach them how to use them. And then eventually let them decide which tools they need.
But first, we have to learn to use the tools ourselves.
We all need to be happy. We all need to feel good and fulfilled and not alone.
And it’s all begins in our minds. It all begins with each of us unlocking our own powers.
We can all save ourselves. And we must. And we can all save the world too. And we will.