Today was a sad day…another school shooting. It breaks me heart. I want to know that every child is safe when you send them off to school in the morning. I want to know that my children will be safe when I have children and send them to school in the future. However it also breaks my heart that people assume that the shooters often have a mental illness. I understand that people are trying to find answers but statistics show that very few percentage of mentally ill patients become violent. There is such a stigma that is associated with this illness and I have to admit that I know the stigma firsthand. Shortly after my little sister was born (25 years ago), our mom had a nervous breakdown and is diagnosed as manic bipolar. She has lived with a mental illness most of my life. I remember growing up mom was in the hospital a lot. I grew up fast because dad was farming and I had to grow up for my little sister. When we got older, we started to ask questions and luckily had doctors who helped or at least tried to help us understand this illness more fully. However it was something we didnt like to talk about, we were afraid of how people would react because of the stigma associated with the illness. The summer after my senior year of high school I went to work at a Bible camp and mom once again got sick. My sister called me to tell me and while I was crying on the phone, some co-counselors walked by and asked what was wrong. It was the first time in my life when I wasnt afraid to share my story. It was good for me to finally get it out in the open. That night was only the beginning. When I got to seminary, I finally felt comfortable sharing our story. I felt like it was an important part of who I was and needed to share it. And in finally telling our story, I began to shatter the stigma that came along with the illness. (It was also during seminary that I got more involved with NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. You can check them out at www.nami.org.)
In seminary, I even wrote a paper on the loss and grief associated with the illness. I remember one particular quote jumped out at me. It said something along the lines of, “There are 100 board and care facilities in the shadow of our steeple and we dont even realize it.”To me this quote emphasizes the harsh reality of how many people struggle with this illness day in and day out. But it also proves to me, how many people are afraid to share their stories because of the stigma associated by the illness. My sister and I now are legal guardians for our mom. It wasnt an easy decision but it is a decison Im glad we made. Mental illness is a scary thing and I know that yes sometimes it can be attributed to events like todays school shooting but I think its important for us to look at medical history, etc before jumping to conclusions. Its just one little thing we can do to help demolish the stigma associated with the illness. So as we celebrate Mental Illness Awareness week, help me and other families shatter the stigma associated with Mental Illness. Together I believe we truly can make a difference!!