A little more than a year after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown Connecticut a local television station in St. Louis sent a reporter to a suburban high school under the guise of a story on school safety. The reporter entered unimpeded. The high school attempted to confirm the reporter's identity but the station refused to confirm or deny this for the administrators. The school went on immediate lock down. This ratings grab drastically missed the lessons learned at Sandy Hook. December 2012 had been a hard year's end for the nation. It had been an equally hard time for parents. I wrote these words shortly after the news onslaught that came out of New England following the events that transpired on December 14, 2012.
Then it struck me …
Until as a nation we stop politicizing, demonizing and alienating those with varying degrees of mental illness that often leads to substance abuse, suicide and tragedy like we witnessed in Newtown, we'll continue in this spiral of anger, ignorance and self loathing that often drives these at-risk kids. And until we include the names of the troubled in our prayers, until pastors, rabbis, monks, mullahs and gurus recite the names of these damaged protagonists when reciting the names of the "killed or injured souls" from each of these events, we'll know we have not changed as a nation.
It is worth repeating that mental illness is not a character flaw that reflects negatively on the individual, his or her family or even our culture. Mental illness should be aggressively examined, dealt with and treated just as any disease.
When was the last time you engaged in a conversation about a hyperglycemic acquaintance and uttered the word "diabetes" in hushed tones?
Our national conversation needs to change at a grass-roots level. A teen with OCD (like my son) who literally paces in the aisle during class shouldn't be treated like a leper, banished to the Principal's office for dismissal from school for the day. His or her condition should be addressed. At the very least, the student can be sent instead to a counselor (or crisis counselor if your school district is progressive enough to even fund the position). These counselors are expert at partnering with families and local mental health professionals for the well-being of the child.
The conversation needs to be taken away from the politicians and news media and brought back to the communities where anger, innuendo, partisanship and blame can be, if we want it, replaced by love, caring and real information.
We can continue averting our eyes from the real issues, or, replace the current conversation with one that embraces these kids with love, compassionate attention and empowerment. It's really a simple decision. It simply needs to start somewhere, in every community. Possibly with you?
"But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian's daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?" ~ Mark Twain's Autobiography