Do not be afraid of people who experience mental health challenges. No matter what the headlines regarding the most recent mass shooting, do not be afraid of people with mental health challenges. Do not be afraid.
Fear is a strategy. We are living through one of the most fear-based administrations in US history. Fear is a weapon of mass distraction and destruction. Fear diverts the public’s attention away from some of the key underlying issues of these horrific mass shootings: America’s obsession with extreme weapons and a White culture that worships violence.
Growing up in the Midwest I could walk into any arcade and find video games ready for me to shoot people on the imaginary streets for a quarter. I was raised on Hollywood movies glorifying gun violence and bloodshed. I spent holidays at family gatherings with guns as entertainment.
I’ve also spent my life navigating what it means to love family members with severe mental illness. The shame and stigma is so real for people with mental illness and their families that it takes a lot of effort to get help. I grew up knowing what it’s like to wonder if a person’s mental illness would cause me harm. It’s a terrible fear to carry.
What we need to remember is that while certain symptoms of mental illness may cause some people to be more vulnerable to expressions of harm, statistically, the majority of the time the harm is to the self, not to others. Therefore, to blame mental illness alone for mass shootings, as the President and others have done, is to deploy the weapon of mass distraction: fear.
Blaming mental illness for the death of innocent children and adults also creates additional harmful stigma and shame for people already burdened by society’s mangled beliefs that mental illness is somehow the person’s fault and results from lack of faith or willpower. Or worse, is a punishment or curse from God.
From a faith perspective, what is at the heart of the matter is this prison of fear that is slowing killing us all. The God revealed in the Bible and in the life of Jesus expresses a tremendous hope that we would not be afraid in this life.
When we are imprisoned by fear we lose our ability to imagine a different reality. We become captive to the fear mongers and we lose our power to create. When we are afraid we do not grow and change.
The most powerful action we can take is to make a decision to not be afraid. We will not be afraid of mental illness. We will not be afraid of changing gun laws. We will not be afraid of challenging a White culture that worships violence. We will not be afraid to dismantle our obsession with extreme weapons. We will not be afraid anymore.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you: God will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).