When I heard about the tragedy on Friday, it rocked my world. I work in the education field. I have a daughter in 1st grade. I have a daughter in pre-school. The thought naturally and quickly came to mind of "what if it was one of us?" And your heart breaks in to a million pieces for the families and the community.
And then you get on Facebook and get to read everyone's personal opinions on why they think something like this happens. Which in interesting. Because everyone thinks they are right. It's because of guns, it's because we took God out of school, it's because our schools aren't safe, because we live in a sick world, because of violent TV or video games, etc.
I chose not to share my 2 cents in the FB world, however, I did share this article. I choose not to share my opinion on the why's of the tragedy, but it does give me an opportunity to jump on a soap box. A mental health soap box. And it starts like this...
My name is Jodi, and I suffer from mental illness.
Sounds horrible, right? I get it. But pull out a DSM-IV, and you will find me more than once, at different stages of my life.
This is my rap sheet. (Yep, it's personal. But it's real. And so am I. And so are the millions of people in the US suffering from mental illness.)
Depression (bad relationship)
Post Partum Depression (potential post-traumatic stress disorder)
Post Partum Depression (again)
Major Depression (totally fought this one internally)
Situational Depression (sounds more like it)
Anxiety Disorder (came out of left field, but totally sums me up)
I was first diagnosed with depression in my late teens. Was I depressed or in a bad relationship? Who really knows, but that was back in the day when Paxil was handed out like candy. Got a case of the grumps? Here, try this!
My first real bout of depression came after Merrick was born. I don't remember all of the specifics of it, which seems weird. I remember crying, a lot. As a infant she had pretty significant jaundice, which sent us to the blood lab 2-3 times a week for her first two months of life. She had little bouts of odd things happen here and there, and coming off of a stressful pregnancy, a stressful induction, a stressful delivery, a stressful after-birth experience, and just being a first time mom, I struggled. A lot. Not the I want to kill myself or my baby type of struggle, but I really was very anxious about motherhood and everything involved with it and just couldn't seem to snap out of it to function properly. And I had horrible visions/nightmares that I would accidentally hurt her horribly. The worst was at the mall and I was so afraid to get close to the bannister because I kept envisioning that I would accidentally drop her off the side. Did I mention I cried a lot?
After some time, I had weaned myself off of medication and was functioning quite normally. Our family of three was pretty great, work was going well, and I would say that my depression had ceased.
Until, I had Taya. And I was sure that I was NOT going to be depressed this time. (Because that is controllable, right?) And this time, the crying was worse. The night
It was harder for me to shake the depression the second time. Because here's the deal. When you are on medication to make you "feel better" you have a false sense that things are better, you decide for yourself that you are going to stop taking your medication, and you hit bottom again.
That's the scary, scary, scary thing about mental illness. If you have diabetes, do you stop taking insulin just because your glucose is normal? If you have high blood pressure, do you stop taking your medication because your check up shows normal blood pressure? The list could go on and on, but the answer will still be this:
NO! BECAUSE THAT MEANS THE MEDICINE IS WORKING!!!
I do not think that I was born wired to have mental illness. Perhaps I was, but I will never know. I choose to believe that my depression was rooted in a traumatic event that I did not have the strength to handle emotionally. My wiring is very emotional; not depressed.
Which leads me to my soap box.
There are millions of mentally ill people in the world. Some are so significantly ill that they kill themselves. Some are so significantly ill that they kill someone else. And the most significantly ill can go in to a school, a mall, a doctors office, a church, etc. and kill many, many, many innocent people. Ending in a horrible, horrible tragedy such as Friday's.
In the field of education, many times you can pick out "those kids." But, many times, "these killers" are not "those kids."
Dave and I have been chatting about this a lot. Who is responsible for identifying mentally ill individuals and getting them the needed help? Is it a parent/family responsibility? An individuals responsibility? Or the public school system's responsibility?
If it is a parent's responsibility, are the parent's strong enough to admit that their child might be mentally ill? Do they have the means to take the child to doctors, or therapists, get medications?
If it is an (older) individual's responsibility, do they have the understanding for themselves that they have an illness? Most of the time, I'd think not. (From experience I can say that I was screaming and crying that I was fine. And I was not.) And if they do get medication, do they continue to take the medication after they feel "better?" Or do they stop counseling or therapy because they feel "better?" I think many times, this is the case. For the person who is treated, they have a very false sense of wellness. For the person who takes themselves off of medication/counseling, or the person who goes untreated, the illness continues to fester. And in some individuals, it continues to fester until the point of explosion. Which may lead to self-inflicted death and murder.
If it is a school system's responsibility to identify these children, do they have the resources available to assist parents and children in appropriate treatments? I can say from experience, not enough. The school district that I work in does have educational support counselors in addition to mental health specialists that work within our buildings, but not solely at a building. But is that enough? Should there be a mental health worker at every building? Should we have more programs for students who feel like they are loners, or who are wired in a way that they need that additional support? If we had enough programs and support at the younger grades, could we reach individuals before it is too late? Should there be someone who is continually patrolling our halls on the lookout for kids that are struggling on the inside, but may not be apparent on the outside?
The tragedy from Friday breaks my heart to pieces. But so does the child who commits suicide because they can't face their life. And the 1st and 2nd grade students who are hospitalized for attempted suicide. And the kid who sits alone at the lunch table or plays alone on the playground because they don't have any friends. Or the kid who is bullied for the way they walk or talk. My list could go on and on...
Here's the deal. Mental illness is real. Not all people are born with it. For some it is onset from trauma or a tragedy. But all people with mental illness need help. Whether it is medication, therapy, or both, the illness will not just go away.
I am not going to pretend that I have any answers regarding how to reach all individuals in need of mental health services. I just know that without additional funding to reach out to individuals who are in need, we will continue to see tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.
And that is so scary.
My name is Jodi, I suffer from anxiety and occasional depression, but I am in control.