The mass shooting in Arizona has everyone shocked. It's hard to wrap your mind around these situations whenever life is taken so suddenly and violently. And it doesn't do any good when the fingers of blame start to point at everyone but the person who held the gun.
Over the past two days I have heard members of the media further the idea that heated political rhetoric-whether in the form of language or symbols-was behind the murders and attempted murders. But the truth seems to point to a mentally sick young man who had been exhibiting strange behavior for some time.
Again, the fingers of blame start to point.
"If you knew he was crazy, why didn't you do something?" This question is asked of parents, teachers, fellow students, neighbors.
I can speak from first hand experience that it's just not that simple. I have a family member who suffers from schizophrenia, and I can attest to the struggles that have stemmed from that disease. It is very difficult to get help for someone who is simply "acting weird" or "talking crazy." Oftentimes, they must break the law before they are forced into addressing their sickness.
My husband reminded me that this shooting is quite similar to the murder of Coach Ed Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg High School by another mentally ill young man. Obviously, not everyone who is mentally ill is going to commit murder. It is frustrating, though, that seemingly nothing can be done when someone is identified as potentially dangerous to themselves or others.
In my research on this topic, I came across the following statement, written recently by Michael J. Fitzpatrick, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the Arizona shooting:
"We share the sadness of other Americans over the Tucson, Arizona tragedy and extend our sympathy to the families of the six individuals who died. We pray for the recovery of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the 13 other persons who were wounded.
"Representative Giffords is a NAMI friend who has served as co-chair of the NAMIWalk in Southeast Arizona and has supported our missions of education, support and advocacy.
"When tragedies involving mental illness occur, it is essential to understand the nature of mental illness-and to find out what went wrong.
"The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low. In fact, 'the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.' Acts of violence are exceptional. They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, usually in the mental healthcare system.
"Nationwide, the mental health care system is broken. Arizona, like other states, has deeply cut mental health services. Arizona has a broad civil commitment law to require treatment if it is needed; however, the law cannot work if an evaluation is never conducted or mental health services are not available.
"In specific cases such as this, authorities and the news media should seek to objectively determine every factor that may have contributed to the tragedy-so that we can act on lessons learned."
Mental illness can be a real struggle for those who have it and for their family and friends, as well. Let's hope that someday, the system works to help identify and treat those who suffer, sooner rather than later.