When Tragedy Strikes

Saturday October 27, 2018 is a day that neither I or the city of Pittsburgh will ever forget. I don’t live in Pittsburgh. I say I live in Pittsburgh because I’m only a short 30 minute ride from downtown. What happened last week is perhaps the most tragic event the city has seen since April 2009 when 4 City of Pittsburgh police officers were killed after being ambushed. I can remember that day and I’m sure 10 years from now I’ll remember where I was when I heard of the shooting in Squirrel Hill. It’s senseless. It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. It leaves us with more questions than answers.

That day I was glued to the TV. From roughly 11am when I first heard of the shooting till late in the evening. Flipping from channel to channel to see who had the latest breaking information. You sat and watched the story unfold on live TV just like we watch every mass shooting. But I’ve become numb to the breaking news of another mass shooting. We as a society seem to have accepted it as the new norm. Why is that? Why are we willing to accept our neighbors, our classmates, our coworkers, our friends or God forbid our family be gunned down going about their daily lives? Have we given up on our politicians? Do we think that there is nothing we as a single person can do to make a difference? When will we reach the point that enough will be enough?


As I was watching through the course of the day I began to listen for keywords being thrown around by panelists or hosts on various TV networks. I began to hear the words I dread to hear. Deranged, lunatic, wacko, psycho, nut job, disturbed. I could keep going but society has become as desensitized to these words as they have become to the shootings themselves. Those descriptions have become synonymous with any kind of shooting of more than 2 people. Within minutes the act of one individual has instantly villainized the entire mental health community. Without even knowing people with a mental illness people have formed opinions. This is a catalyst for the stigma surrounding mental health. We must stop this. We must stop accepting TV networks immediately becoming licensed psychiatrists and immediately diagnosing and using derogatory words to describe an entire class of people. 1 in 4 Americans were called wackos, nut jobs, and lunatics by Wolf Blitzer on CNN last Saturday night. And no one said a word. It’s easy for people like Wolf Blitzer and other panelists to label us like that when they lack the knowledge to understand what a mental illness really is.

Those with a mental illness are 84 times more likely to have a crime committed against them than they are to commit a crime. Yet the finger immediately gets pointed. Let me ask how a shooting like this affects your mental health? Do you binge watch the TV coverage like I do? Do you turn it off because you don’t want to hear the derogatory comments? Is it a trigger for you? For me it’s both a binge watch and a trigger. It’s a trigger for me because I begin to see my mood change as the day goes on. I see myself becoming more angry and bitter. I hurt for those who were lost. I hurt for the families affected. I hurt for the entire city. But I also hurt for every person that suffers from a mental illness. Events like this put a target on the community, it erases ground we’ve managed to gain in our fight against the stigma. And I hurt for those that now will no longer consider seeking help for their symptoms.

We’ve heard the words, we’ve seen the results. We know that almost none of the mass shootings that occur are done by females. So who does that leave? Males. 7 out of 10 suicides are men. 75% of those men never sought treatment for their symptoms prior to their suicide. 11 people dying by a mass shooting deserves TV coverage. 120 people dying each day via suicide in the US is also worth a discussion. We see a cause and affect between these events. The saddest thing they have in common is that they both end in unnecessary tragedy.

I implore you to not accept the norm. Do not allow yourself to be labeled. Do not allow yourself to be a definition. Do not allow yourself to be a statistic. You are no different than any other person. If you are reading this perhaps you are the one that will stand up and speak out about mental health and finally put an end to the stigma. 120 people a day die in this country. One every 12 minutes. During your next 15 minute break at work think of that. Someone likely died from suicide while you were on break. We can’t accept that. We are better than this and the strength of the mental health community is far greater than any stigma that can be placed on us. But we must act. I will not be stood on, I will stand up. I will not be silenced, I will speak out. I will not sit down, I will be seen. I will not be defeated, I will fight on. Take my hand and lets fight this together.


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