By Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO
Tulsa, Milwaukee, Charlotte…
North Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore…
Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights…
These are communities forever linked by acts of violence, where in nearly every instance, a person attempting to preserve the peace of the moment lost a life.
These events are the sources of daily headlines, focusing on seemingly unchecked violence and unrest in America. Emotions are high, and finger pointing from all sides is ongoing. But as we try to comprehend and understand what is happening throughout the country, perhaps we need to step back and put ourselves in the shoes of the individuals living in these communities every day. Because the real story is that these are all communities in distress, and that for many of them stress and distress were ways of life long before these acts of violence moved them to the front pages of the news.
And if we understand that perspective, we must recognize that we have to pay careful attention in these communities and in others across the nation to the chilling effect this distress has on the mental health of the people living in them.
It is as if we focus on athletes kneeling during the National Anthem without seeing the reason for the protest. As the parent of mixed race kids, I’ve said it openly before. When we’re talking about stress, distress, income, discrimination, and safety, race does matter in America – and, increasingly, so does ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and a whole lot of other things that were supposed to have melted away in this great melting pot of ours.
So what can we do about it?
Each year, Mental Health America (MHA) produces a report on Mental Health in America. Our newest report, which will lay out the best, most recent unbiased information about that state of our mental health across the nation, will be out next month. It will reflect state-by-state the challenges we continue to face in making our nation healthier and stronger. And readers will see that we do indeed have a lot of challenges to overcome.
But what the data sources fall short of ever doing is capturing the stories behind the data – stories of the families and neighbors of people like Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terrence Crutcher, Keith Scott, and Sylville Smith.
We recognize that these are stories of people living in the aftermath of trauma—from every day violence that is commonplace in some communities to the larger stories that make cable news. But for many, many more whose stories are not in the news, the experiences are the same. They come to MHA and our affiliates every day to seek help. They live with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Their pathways to recovery will be long and often lonely ones. And they must often recover in environments of expansive hostility to them.
From time to time, we at MHA comment on acts of violence.
Most of the time, it’s to make sure that mental illnesses are not falsely associated with the causes of violence. But sometimes – like today – it is because we all need to understand the truth about distress. For many it is a fact of life. And it impacts the mental health of everyone it touches.
There is no doubt that we have got to take steps in this nation to prevent senseless acts of violence. But we also have to acknowledge the toll that exposure to violence has taken on us – it literally makes us physically and mentally ill.
At MHA, we want to help. We offer resources and screening tools to monitor your mental health, which thousands of people use each day. Our MHA affiliates around the country offer programs and services to aid communities in need. The National Disaster Distress Helpline, operated by MHA – New York City, is there for everyone whenever it is needed. We also partner with others across the nation to help every community in distress find services it wants to meet its unique needs, including Crisis Text Line, that offers free text-enabled access to trained Crisis Counselors by texting MHA to 741741.
And we continue to promote our #B4Stage4 campaign – to remind policy and community leaders that early identification and intervention promote recovery, and that mental illnesses are not public safety problems to be exploited, but health problems to be treated.
We need to work together to end the distress, the violence, and the despair that so many Americans currently experience. We can’t solve everything, but MHA wants to help.