Last Friday, I was devastated about the news of yet another school shooting — this time at my alma mater, Arapahoe High School, in Littleton, Colo.
It happened almost a year to the date of the sickening Newtown, Conn. shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a scene that already had been playing in my head over the last few weeks.
But news of Arapahoe, a special place to me, shook me to my core. A good friend I grew up with — who also attended Arapahoe — now teaches history there. Many of the teachers and coaches who inspired me are still there.
It’s an eerie feeling to watch the news and hear about the halls, the doors, the classrooms, the track field — and know exactly where and what they’re talking about.
The parents of Claire Davis, the young student in critical condition after being shot in the head, have not only asked for prayers for their daughter, but funds for mental health programs in Colorado.
That shows a lot of thought for others in their (beyond) difficult time. And it also shows a lot of common sense about a complicated matter.
It’s easy to call these killers monsters, but they’re also clearly people who deeply needed help. How do we comprehend the events? How we do go about stopping them? How does it ever get that far? These are answers I don’t have. But what I do know is we need more attention on mental health in America.
There have been strides lately. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, since Newtown, 36 states increased their mental health care budgets in 2013. And the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act helps, which seeks to prohibit insurers from specifically withholding mental health care services.
The NAMI called recent funding a “tipping point” in light of the nation’s “fragmented and grossly inadequate mental health system.”
There’s still much more to be done. It’s more than just funding that’s the problem. It’s the fact that there are not enough doctors to treat these patients. It’s the fact that diagnoses are readily available for mental illness, but treatments aren’t. It’s also largely the problem of a stigma that surrounds the issue.
It’s something we don’t like to talk about. We get our blood pressure and cholesterol checked at annual exams, but our mental health isn’t measured or discussed with providers.
The shootings, of course, represent the worst of mental health issues. They require our undivided attention to help keep these patients safe and to protect ourselves and our communities, and to prevent these unnecessary tragedies from recurring.
At the same time, we also need to consider this fact: About one in four U.S. adults suffer from mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. Their plights might not make the news, but there are still essential pieces of this puzzle we need to sort.
More mental health awareness is important for everyone who suffers silently with diseases they don’t want to discuss. It’s important for us as a country to not suffer that sinking feeling of grief and gut-wrenching concern every time we hear there’s a shooting.
And personally, I don’t want to fear my friend is dead, have the teachers who inspired and changed me be in danger, or have my community needlessly and irrevocably changed forever.
Enough is enough.