Faces on Faith: Guns and mental illness: one part of the problem
It was a spring day in April, 2007.
Students at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., were going about their normal routines as the semester was beginning to wind down. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, all hell broke loose as senior Seung-Hui Cho unleashed his fury and dozens of bullets on his unsuspecting classmates and teachers.
When it was all said and done, thirty-two lay dead, including Cho himself, a victim of suicide.
A very comprehensive review of the case quickly revealed that Cho had suffered a severe depressive disorder as early as his time in middle school.
But, over his college years, there were various warning signs of psychological deterioration, including some very disturbing creative writing.
I read one of his short dramas, called “Richard McBeef.”
It is extremely graphic, and very chilling. But such warning signs went largely unheeded.
Unfortunately, the massacre at Virginia Tech is only one of many stories connecting gun violence with mental illness. It is a very strange story, but it is not unique.
Indeed, subsequent incidents have proven that sad truth.
There is a real stigma attached to mental illness-and so many are silent in their distress. Many don’t seek treatment for fear of how it will affect their employment or social standing.
Mental illness is only part of the problem when it comes to gun violence.
As a nation we need to have the courage to take a very serious look at gun violence.
As a society, we need to address the high level of violence in our culture. But mental illness is also a part of what we need to examine. Not only in terms of mass shootings like the one on the grounds of Virginia Tech, but perhaps more significantly, in terms of suicides.
When it comes to gun violence, mental illness is not the only issue, but it is one of them.
But it is also part of a bigger issue. For we have yet to really deal with mental illness in this country. And it is far past time that we do so.
It is time we stop stigmatizing the mentally ill. It is time that we recognize mental illness for what it is: a medical condition, a disease, an illness. It is time we stop shackling those who suffer from mental illness with stereotypes.
It is time we stop isolating them among the tombstones of misunderstanding. It is time we value the mentally ill as children of God, worthy of our love, our care and our attention.
It is time for us to make certain that the proper treatment is readily available for all those who have need of it.
Do background checks need to be more thorough in terms of mental health histories? Do there need to be restrictions on gun ownership for those with untreated mental disorders?
Do those who have been hospitalized for mental illness need to be disallowed as gun owners? Can a citizen’s basic rights be suspended or taken away just because they are mentally ill?
These are certainly significant questions to ask and answer, but the answers are meaningless unless we do all in our power to move out of the dark ages when it comes to those who are mentally ill.
It is time that we become willing to see those who suffer from mental illness for who they truly are: men and women, girls and boys, loved by God and deserving of proper care and treatment.