Our nation must address many issues of mental health

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Just another week in America ... a mass shooting in Washington, D.C.; a young, unarmed man shot to death by police in Charlotte, N.C.; and a natural disaster of biblical proportions in Colorado, creating thousands of victims of trauma. These types of events are so commonplace anymore that we are likely being desensitized to them. And in a society that obsesses about the health risk of 20-ounce soft drinks, we are alarmingly indifferent to the potential impact of the ever-increasing number of such incidents.

Our country's overall health and safety is seriously threatened by the lack of mental health awareness. This includes how to identify and deal with mental illness and its causes. Yet the stigma of mental illness continues to obscure any real hope of help or resolution. Consider the numerous examples of people who have acted out violently against others -- at Virginia Tech; in Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; Chardon, Ohio, and Washington D.C. -- even though the warning signs were there. Add to this our veterans returning from war, individuals coping with unemployment or the impact of losing their homes due to financial problems or natural disasters, and first responders who are bombarded on a daily basis by unspeakable tragedies.

The result is record suicide rates, especially among our veterans, a disturbing number of stressed-out police and a virtual procession of angry, depressed and grief-stricken victims who may have no idea where to turn or are too proud or ashamed to ask for help. The age-old taboo surrounding mental health-related problems has impeded any meaningful progress in addressing this phenomena or even broaching the subject.

Gun control, privacy matters and related concerns should be factored in but must not deter intelligent, unbiased and experienced professionals from initiating national dialogue that is long overdue. Our lives and sanity depend on it.

PEGGY HOCKSWENDER
Swissvale

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