It was one of those moments that appear out of nowhere. Suddenly, without warning, anguish approaches, your stomach tightens and tears wash over your cheeks. You are left to wonder WHY?
How does one understand or accept a world where a single moment brings unbearable sorrow?
On Dec. 14 the world was united in that stomach-tightening misery that rained down on Sandy Hook Elementary School. No one could comprehend or even accept that such unbearable sorrow had visited the families of Newtown, Conn.
Together we joined hands, fell to our knees and mourned the loss of the innocent.
That day fear entered the world as we looked at the 20-year-old who pulled the trigger. The label of “mental illness” was heard around the world. And at that moment, society’s fear of the unknown about mental illness bubbled to the surface in the minds of its citizens.
Generations of myths, preconceived beliefs and lack of education about mental illness became topics of conversation.
As families of the mentally ill became subjects of criticism — as well as the mentally ill individuals themselves — an important aspect of mental illness was never addressed. Countless people with mental illness live lives of balance — lives of self-responsibility in one hand and accountability in the other. They hold firm and exhibit their ability to manage and maintain a life filled with dignity and purpose.
So what is the truth about mental illness?
First: individuals with mental illness are not prone to violence. I am not saying an individual with mental illness will not ever be violent; that would be ludicrous. Each and every one of us could at any given moment become violent. The definition of violence is: using physical force to injure somebody or damage something. But we are not talking about injury or damage we are talking about the crime of killing another person.
There are many explanations as to why someone kills. Rarely is there a single reason and usually many factors come into play.
So, when might mental illnesses play a part in violence? When another component is added to the mental illness, behavior can become unpredictable. Some individuals have mental illness but have not been diagnosed; therefore, they are not taking medication. That is one component.
Another person might have a diagnosed mental illness but is improperly taking medication or is self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
Another problematic area involves taking medications for other illnesses simultaneously with prescriptions for mental illness.
Mental illness alone, though, is not a recipe for violent action.
Of all violent crimes, 4 percent are committed by mentally ill people. That leaves 96 percent of these crimes with no connection to mental illness. Additionally, nearly all violent crimes involve alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs.*
We must be knowledgeable when we address mental illness and murder. We do not have the luxury of spreading misinformation that will affect the lives of those who are also innocent. Making sweeping generalizations about the mentally ill does not paint an accurate picture.
So what is our answer? Is there a solution to all this suffering? I believe there is.
On a weekly basis I teach hope to those who face the challenges of dealing with bipolar disorder. I know by educating individuals about their illness, providing a journal that helps them track their moods (bipolar disorder is a mood disorder) so their psychiatrist can make accurate decisions for their care, and by teaching personal responsibility for managing their illness — balance can be achieved.
We do need better mental health care, yet even with the best health insurance it will not change until the individual accepts the diagnosis, and the psychiatrist, clinicians, primary physicians and patient come together to partner in the care.
It is my responsibility to teach how to be accountable and responsible for one’s own diagnosis. It is the responsibility of the psychiatrists and mental health workers to understand that all who have mental illness/bipolar disorder are not identical. Important variables exist and we are all unique.
So this new year we hope for mercy on those past, present and future who have been touched by sorrow, anguish and suffering created by a lack of education and lack of knowledge.
Please join with Bipolar Insights and come to learn, understand and be a part of a culture of hope. Educate yourself about bipolar disorder so that the mentally ill as well as victims of violent crime can be respected within the context of an informed society. Our prayers are for all.
The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Weekly meetings start at 7 p.m., Sundays at Marshall Medical Health Conference Room 207/208, 681 Main St. in Placerville and on Mondays, in Room 304, Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, The fee is $5 per person. Check bipolarinsights.com for complete details and further information.