What if you thought you were sick. You didn't know exactly what was wrong, but something didn't feel "right". Outwardly, you were fine, but inside things were just a bit off. It comes and goes with different degrees of severity, but never goes away completely. For hypothetical reference, we'll call it Maginot's disease.
You research Maginot's disease and find that many people diagnosed with this condition are provided drugs with horrible side effects that essentially shut down one's ability to interact with the outside world. These side effects are rare, and only occur in extreme conditions of Maginot's, but still reported. You also observe that treatment for Maginot's may include hospitalization and painful therapies. Your primary care provider tells you that they can refer you to a specialist, but cannot treat the condition themselves. She writes a prescription for "Maginot Consult".
You start paying attention to Maginot's coverage in the paper and detect a clear stigma attached to the disease. More than the need for treatment. The coverage seems to blame victims of Maginot's for their condition. Not directly, but in a way that dehumanizes the carrier and makes the disease bigger than the individual.
And then something horrible happens. An individual with Maginot's disease shoots another person before shooting themselves. The crime is immediately attributed to Maginot's disease.
You hear your friends say "This person should have been in a Maginot's asylum." "This person knew they had Maginot's and they didn't do anything about it." "We have a Maginot's disease problem in this country!"
For the first time since becoming aware of your own condition, you hear "We need to do something about Maginot's disease."
Can you honestly say you would seek treatment?
Continuing to the present, returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq applying for jobs requiring security clearances are required to acknowledge whether they participate in psychiatric therapy, how often, and what drugs the take for their condition. After the rumor spread that including such reports would result in an immediate denial (not true), returning troops told one another not to seek out therapy for fear of losing out on high paying jobs. The results were predictably horrific. Studies have shown that this practice likely attributed to hundreds of veteran suicides across the country...continuing to the present.
Viewing mental health in the context of public safety is killing us. I don't pretend to know the answer, but I think I can identify part of the problem. Because of the manner in which discussions of gun control escalate (watch the comments on this post), we require a distracting construct. "Mental health" has provided that construct, because we must assume that anyone who would do something horrible must be sick. But for the sake of our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, we need to stop stigmatizing mental health and start providing resources in a consumer-focused appeal to those whose lives would benefit from treatment. Not because those in need of treatment are going to shoot up a shopping mall, but because these people are hurting on a daily basis and are probably terrified of being thought of in the same context as those horrible people with guns.
Say that mass shootings are a consequence of "freedom".
Say that we need metal detectors at every entrance-way.
Say that "if only" X, this wouldn't have happened.
But please, stop saying "mental health". You don't know what the person next to you is going through.
That's all for today. Have a great Friday doing what you love! It's impossible not to.