In the days following the Stoneman Douglas shooting, I have watched new media outlets and a common solution suggested is to take guns away from mentally unstable people. The mom in me has decided, yes, anything to increase safety. But as someone with mental health issues, I do pause. I don’t like that people with more chemical imbalances are automatically associated with people who are more likely to be violent. Me?
My freshman year of college I was walking to class and this girl saw me and crossed over to the other side of the street. It took me a month to realize she had heard or seen that I struggled with mental health issues and she feared me. It caused me to question myself. I had never hurt anyone, I had never thought about hurting anyone, why should I be feared? Prejudice.
I read somewhere that only 20% of Americans have the proper balance of epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine in their brains. That means 80% of us are chemically unbalanced. I think people put stable and unstable into two different groups. But we really all are on a continuum between stable and unstable and any of us has the propensity to slide more up or down the line. Some of us just have more genetic factors that gift us with sliding. The pundits on TV bother me because they refer to people with mental instability as ‘those people’, that separate group over there. Not thinking they could ever slide. Segregation.
I think I have read too many psychology books and hung out with too many people with different mental health conditions to be scared. Hollywood sensationalizes us, it never tells the story of how we are more likely to be victims of crime rather than the perpetrators. The majority of us are trying to figure out how to keep it straight, not get fired, raise great kids and maintain friendships. And then we have to deal with people’s negative beliefs towards us. Stigma.
I remember in high school watching the Oprah show and Mark Zuckerberg came on. Oprah explained he had trouble connecting socially but was extraordinarily intelligent and had built a new company, called Facebook. I got excited, in the midst of my teenage self-discovery, media showed me someone receiving praise because his brain worked different. It’s not that he was unstable, it just got me thinking, a differently structured brain could cause someone to be particularly gifted in certain areas. The rejection letter high school wrote me, was less life-determining, I became preoccupied with discovering what I could do well, what was coming after. Gifted.
One thing I wish society would look at is how our perception of people with mental health issues impacts their reality in defining years. In high school, you get left out for wearing different shoes, can you imagine what happens when you have a different brain. The law I wish could be passed, is that school must be an inclusive environment, the one team, no one gets left out mentality. I wish the media could “cross the street” and interview more successful people with mental health issues. That they could speak from a place of understanding and inclusivity. We like to watch TV too. Media Influence.
The laws, the gun control debate is so convoluted with a myriad of issues overlapping. One thing we each can control is how we perceive and treat people with mental health issues. For those currently struggling with mental health issues, we can control how we view ourselves and what role we believe we are to play in society. Basic brains are not going to find the cure for cancer, it’s going to take someone thinking outside the box. The next time you interact with someone with mental health issues, try to better understand us, to include us. Come armed and fully loaded with love. Cross the street.