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Mental health needs attention

Editorial | Mass shooting discourse cannot be limited to gun control

Another day, another mass shooting. Such is the society we live in. In our short term as an editorial board, this is at least our third time writing about such an incident. It’s deplorable and frankly, just sad.

This week’s Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C. is one of the most recent tragedies to send shockwaves across the country. A former full-time Navy reservist allegedly opened fire and killed 13 people. The ensuing gun battle resulted in the shooter becoming one of the casualties.

We not only feel regret over the tragedy, but also hope that it becomes an opportunity for our country to rethink the significance of mental health in mass shootings, military and gun ownership.

One thing that has become clear in the aftermath of the shooting is the shooter’s history of mental illness. Thought to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since his close proximity to the Twin Towers on 9/11, the shooter exhibited disturbing behavior to the people that surrounded him — yet still was able to join the Navy.

Even while in the Navy he continued to have a troubled experience, with instances of insubordination and disorderly conduct, eventually leading to his honorable discharge. Weeks prior to the shooting, he mentioned hearing voices in his head, alluding to serious mental issues. He received treatment by the Department of Veteran Affairs, clearly acknowledging that he had some things he had to deal with. Yet, he not only was able to serve in our Navy, but also was able to get a civilian job with ease and eventually get his hands on a gun.

When mass shootings, bombings, and similar tragedies occur, the public is quick to jump to a variety of issues in speculation of the perpetrators’ reason for killing innocent people. We immediately wonder whether the crime was religiously charged, politically motivated, an illustration of faulty gun legislation — and, in doing so, we often dismiss the individuality of the person. We overlook the fact that they may have had serious mental issues that led them to do what they did.

And when we become guilty of dismissing those possibilities, we also eliminate the potential of addressing mental issues as a means of preventing these types of tragedies from happening again.

While stricter gun control laws — with, most importantly, stringent background checks — are a must, they are not the only variable that needs to be adjusted in this situation. We live in a culture of extreme violence. It permeates all forms of our entertainment — whether movies, video games or music. It’s splattered across our news coverage everyday. In many ways, we’ve become desensitized to it, to the point where lax gun laws — a distinctive characteristic of American life — are the norm. Such conditions breed normalcy to bloodshed, making it a typical endpoint of mentally disturbed episodes.

The Navy Yard shooting brings to light many issues regarding mental health’s reception in our country as a whole. While the military gives much-needed attention to PTSD and other disorders in the form of programs and support, what’s needed is a reevaluation of how we address mental issues. With a more effective approach — which absolutely must include relinquishing the “taboo” stigma around topics of mental health — properly providing for psychological needs can become an effective way of stopping the problem long before a first casualty hits the ground.

How many more cases of mass shootings need to take place, how many more innocent people need to die, how many more redundant and pointless headlines need to get some limelight for us to finally learn our lesson? People hurt people in all parts of the world, but excessive gun violence seems to be an ailment that afflicts our country in a relatively overwhelming way. It’s time to heal it at the root.

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