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I’m not a psychiatrist.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m not medically trained in any profession, nor do I really have any first-hand accounts of mental illness that will pull at your heartstrings.  I’m not even a college graduate as I’m less than a calendar year away from earning my Bachelor’s degree in Sports Management.

By all accounts, I’m not an expert in this field and my testimony is one that probably won’t instigate long-term change or even a short-term discussion.  But after reading the heartbreaking and eye-opening account of “Michael’s” mother (which you should all read, in case you haven’t, right here), it inspired me to add my own two cents to the discussion.

A shooting as chaotic, heinous and tear-jerking as what happened in Newtown, CT will always spark a wide variety of emotions and calls for action.  Most notably the national dialogue we are having is mostly focused on gun control, which is a subject I support.  We do need to figure out a way in which semi-automatic weapons can be kept out of civilians’ hands.

Gun control does not equate to gun removal however, and that’s a message that should be oft-repeated in the coming weeks, days and likely years.  The basis of all arguments should be finding a way to keep our nations safe from gun violence and while we will never eradicate all guns, we can maybe figure out how we go about political change.

There is also a segment of the population that believe we should go further with guns and actually allow civilians to be armed at all times.  Considering America has 88.8 guns per 100 people, it might be safe to assume that of all the proposed solutions that we can talk about; more guns is clearly not the answer.

Mental illness, on the other hand, is an issue that should not go away or one we should not “wait” to talk about.  The shooter of the Newtown massacre had well-documented struggles with a variety of mental illnesses.  Other shooters, including the one that tried to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January of 2011, have also been classified as “mentally ill”.

Yet there is still a stigma around mental illnesses in America.  Sometimes you’ll hear claims that issues such as depression, ADHD, OCD or even bipolar disorder can be easily made up.  When someone says they are clinically depressed, people just assume they need to be cheered up as opposed to actually helped.

Don’t get me wrong in saying that we should refer all of those people to a psychiatric ward as soon as possible, but it takes more than just adding a smile to someone’s face to improve their mental health.  To simply just “put a band-aid” on a mental issue does nothing but delay the suffering that one goes through.

Support means more than just offering prayers, condolences, and hoping for the best; it starts with generational change.

Being born in 1991, I can’t pretend I’m exactly an expert when it comes to previous generations and their outlook on those with mental handicaps.  But I can say that we, as a current society, are probably more advanced on how we treat issues.  Over my time in various levels of education (from elementary school to college), I can firsthand see more emphasis on trying to eradicate bullying and continued encourage of acceptance.

Gone are the days where people are completely shunned from society for having a mental illness, handicap or disorders.  But have we really done the best we can do with not only those who suffer from illnesses but for families who have a loved one with such illnesses?

Of course when it comes to healthcare, the PPACA (Affordable Care Act/”Obamacare”) has rightfully stolen the headlines and while the PPACA does offer mental health services; but having access to healthcare only helps so much, it’s getting care to people that’s more important.

Some burden might fall on families who aren’t properly educated on how to deal with a child who suffer from a mental illness.  It seems rather Draconian that some families have to choose between either “hoping” their child goes to jail or an asylum to receive adequate help.

What must we do though?  First off might seem easier said than done, but continued investments in local communities (maybe offering grants to programs such as Suicide Anonymous) and making sure they have the resources to help those who suffer from mental illnesses would be a good start.

Another proposal should be making sure schools have accredited school psychiatrists on campus.  Early diagnosis and proper treatment of mental illnesses is also of high importance.

But we must not, at the same time, isolate these people from living normal lives.  That’s where we run the risk of trying to do the right thing, but hurting the overall goal.  Offering help, providing help and having help be easily accessed are the three major issues surrounding healthcare in general, so we must find out what to do.

However the last thing we, as a society, need to do is evolve.  Yes, generational change is where we must begin and that’s how we will grow as a society.  What exactly does that entail?  Remember that feeling you had when you first read “Michael’s” story?  Always be aware of that feeling and when you have children of your own (for younger readers), teach them the importance of accepting others who might suffer from a mental illness.

Education goes a long way.  We’ll never stop bullying, no matter how hard we try, but we can help showing the next generation on how to accept others.  Yes, it’s a “Sesame Street” answer to a serious issue, but how else do we change the world?  Change starts with you and expands to us, which builds into everyone.

But now is the time where we discuss what to do.  The time is now.

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