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Today, our country is mourning. On Dec. 14, a gunman shot 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Of all the lives lost that day, 20 were children.
Like the rest of the country, I am shocked and saddened. Accompanying our grief, however, is a rising anger. Anger that this man wasn’t stopped, anger that these children weren’t saved and anger that we as a nation didn’t prevent this.
This mass shooting has sparked a debate: some are demanding we have more laws put in place to restrict gun ownership, some believing the public should have access to guns. The matter of gun control is extremely relevant. And yet, there is another matter at hand: what about the shooter being mentally ill?
It’s suspected that the man behind these 28 murders was “crazy.” Some people may believe that because the shooter had a mental disorder, and that everyone with a mental disorder should be put in jail. That they’re all threats to society. But they’re not all the same.
My dad is mentally ill. He has what’s basically a mix between schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, and it usually causes hallucinations and occasional depression. My dad takes several pills a day to lighten the symptoms, and they work. But the illness never really goes away.
There are many differences between my dad and the gunman. The most relevant being that my dad sought help. My dad sees a doctor on a regular basis, takes medications and lives a relatively normal life. As far as we know, the gunman did not. Had he gone to a therapist or a doctor, he could have gotten proper medication and care. Had he been taken to a mental hospital, he could have worked through his problems. Had he been given the help he needed, there would be 28 more lives on this planet today.
My dad’s illness is nowhere near as severe as the shooter’s. However, if someone needs help, the severity of his illness is irrelevant. Instead of sending someone with a mental illness to prison, send him to a mental hospital. Send him to a therapist. But don’t default to jail. Whether he has mild depression or severe schizophrenia, if someone with a mental illness needs help he should get it, for his own good and for the good of others.
If you know someone, anyone, with a mental disorder that needs help, get them help. Get him to a therapist. Take her to a mental hospital. Take some of your own time to help a fellow human. Who among us couldn’t use a helping hand every once in a while? It could be a neighbor. A friend. A sister.
It doesn’t matter; it is our responsibility as human beings to give help to those who need it before it’s too late.
In this time of national grief, more than ever, we need to help each other. We are responsible for one another. And maybe, with time and with the love and compassion I know we are capable of, we as a nation can heal.