“At what point do we realize we’ve had enough moments of silence and understand what we really need is momentous change?” ~Anonymous
The Nashville school shooting was my ‘last straw.’ Should it have come sooner? Probably. I guess I just felt it was the responsibility of our elected officials to serve and protect, so I kept waiting on them to do something. But here we are. On top of mass shootings, our country is experiencing a rise in civil unrest. Demonstrations and organized assemblies have turned violent with innocent bystanders being attacked. And in one week alone these stories topped the headlines:
• A 6-year-old girl and her parents were shot in North Carolina after their basketball rolled into a neighbor’s yard.
• A black teen who mistakenly went to the wrong home to pick up his younger brothers was shot by an 84-year-old white man in Kansas City, Missouri.
• A 20-year-old woman looking for a friend’s house in upstate New York was fatally shot by a homeowner after the car she was riding in went to the wrong address.
• Two teen cheerleaders in Texas were shot after they mistakenly got into the wrong car after cheerleading practice.
The shootings by homeowners will renew debates about the “stand your ground” laws, which govern the use of deadly force in self-defense. Christopher Slobogin, law professor at Vanderbilt University and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Program said, “The concern is that the ‘stand your ground’ language means we’re back in Wild West days where people can respond to confrontations with deadly force, even if deadly force is disproportionate to the threat, and that’s not the law in any state.”
What is happening to us?! What can we do?!
I decided to do some research in an effort to not only feel like I was doing something but also to find some tangible ideas that could be implemented right away. Let’s first address gun control.
120 Americans are killed with guns DAILY.
Firearms are now the #1 leading cause of death for American children (which includes death by suicide)
Sometimes, that ‘last straw’ can leave us grasping for straws in finding solutions. Since the Covenant School shooting, many more people have been actively stepping up and speaking up. The voice of the people can be very powerful and effective; however, our vision is often blurred because we’re angry, hurt, and scared for our children. As a result, our passion for a solution is often reactive and misguided, making it easy to get sucked into the trap of finger-pointing or losing sight altogether of realistic solutions. It then becomes politics over a solution. And a rant about politics would serve merely as a distraction, skirting solutions and dividing us more than we already are.
Enough. This is not a competition to prove someone right or wrong. Our children are being massacred. It’s time to put politics, ego, and agenda aside and open our minds. Tish Harrison Warren wrote in the NY Times, “Gun violence in America will not be reduced by short-lived outrage or hashtagging after a major event. To reduce gun violence in the United States, we need legal change and we need social change. Both take time. And both demand a level of unity and sustained attention that is unusual in our day.”
We need to work in unity as a community.
I’m no expert on government, guns, or mental health, but I’m sharing what I found in my research to open a discussion. Here we go.
Mass shootings naturally spark talk of gun control. Take away the guns, and shootings won’t happen, right? While a dreamy notion, it is sadly unrealistic. Gun violence will never be stopped. When someone is determined to kill, they will find a way. If they don’t get the guns legally, they’ll almost certainly find a way to get them illegally. Could a ban on assault weapons at least help save some lives? One would think so. Mass shootings dropped when the 1994 ban was enacted, but that was a different time. It’s nearly thirty years later — it’s much easier now to find access to guns. Yes, mass shootings increased when the ban expired in 2004, but guns are not the only reason.
We need to look beyond statistics.
Mass shootings are going up for several reasons, including:
• Increase in mental health disorders
• Decrease in human connection/socialization
• Lack of coping strategies in younger generations
• Increase in political extremism and hate groups
• Copycats or those looking for ‘notoriety.’
And think about this: if a ban is implemented, how does the government collect the millions of weapons already in circulation? Americans have had nearly twenty years since the ban expired to purchase and stockpile such weapons. On the other hand, many of the high-profile mass shooters purchased their weapons less than one year before committing their acts, so it’s possible that reinstating the ban could have an impact. If the ban is reinstated, are these killers likely to find their weapons elsewhere? “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But if a ban can prevent even ONE child from being killed, wouldn’t it be worth it?!
Living in Montana (and from my days volunteering with the Tempe Arizona Police Department), I’ve been witness to passionate, responsible gun owners, and I understand their stance defending the 2nd Amendment. I’m also a parent trying to understand the necessity of automatic weapons in our society. Knowing that these weapons are typically used in school shootings, (the Nashville shooter fired 152 rounds), couldn’t the NRA and gun enthusiasts support a compromise instating some sensible gun laws that would certainly prevent deaths like waiting periods, background checks, and banning high-capacity magazines?
With a ban not likely to happen, how do we protect our children from gun violence?
Sadly, short of homeschooling, I don’t believe that’s entirely possible today. Any protective measures taken in schools are not fail-proof. However, if you want to get involved with gun violence prevention, there is an organization called EveryTown made up of mayors, moms, teachers, survivors, gun owners, students, and everyday Americans to make their communities safer. Click here for more info: https://www.everytown.org/
“It’s not the gun; it’s the person pulling the trigger.”
America’s mental health crisis is at epidemic levels. The correlation between mass shooters and psychiatric drug use certainly exists.
More than 24% of Americans are prescribed mental health medication.
Researchers examined documents from 70 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of two common types of antidepressants— SSRI and SNRI—and found that the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior doubled in children and adolescents who used these medications. And as far back as 2011, a report by the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that important data about the safety of these drugs—especially their risks for children and adolescents—has been withheld from the medical community and the public. Another report found that pharma employees wrote a third of the meta-analyses of antidepressant studies and these were 22 times less likely than other meta-studies to include negative statements about the drug.
• In 2005 Effexor manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals quietly added “homicidal ideation” to the drug’s list of adverse events.
• Paxil’s known adverse drug reactions include, ‘mania,’ ‘paranoid reaction,’ ‘psychosis,’ ‘hostility,’ ‘hallucinations,’ ‘abnormal thinking,’ ‘depersonalization’ and ‘lack of emotion,’ among others.”
• Prozac-maker Eli Lilly settled a lawsuit brought by survivors of a 1989 mass shooting in Kentucky.
If these drugs pose such a threat, there would be a load of high-profile lawsuits, right? Ha. We know Big Pharma better than that. Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars settling claims out of court and often cloak them with confidentiality agreements.
Why are so many more people being prescribed these meds?
Likely many reasons. A few of my thoughts:
- Most doctors are not afforded the time necessary with patients to get to the root cause of their symptoms.
- Most doctors are trained to treat only the symptoms, not find the source of the symptoms. And after years of doing medical research, I’ve seen how often anxiety and depression are caused by underlying health conditions that are often overlooked.
- Some patients come in with anxiety from common everyday struggles, but since they have not learned coping skills, they’re handed a prescription, often making them dependent on meds for years instead of learning crucial life skills or alternative ways of dealing with anxiety.
It’s essential to acknowledge, some people undoubtedly benefit from mental health medication. Unfortunately, I also know many people prescribed the medication who have been harmed by it, myself included. After suffering a panic attack, I was prescribed Xanax. The doctor spent less than ten minutes with me. When Xanax didn’t help, I was given an antidepressant. (Huh?! I was far from depressed!) That put me in the ER. I eventually found an Integrative MD who discovered my adrenal glands were causing my anxiety. Another example was with my boys, both diagnosed with ADHD, but before putting them on medication, I had some lab work done which revealed Lyme disease in both. ADHD and pediatric Lyme symptoms are almost identical, but most conventional medical doctors have no idea. The question to ask yourself (and your practitioner):
What is happening to my body/brain that is causing this anxiety/depression?
Similar to the previous examples I gave, something else might be happening with you or your child that would explain the symptoms. Quite often, I’ve seen mold and/or Lyme, even diet, as the culprit for anxiety and depression. Find a practitioner who can get to the root cause of neurological issues.
Physical activity is 1.5 times more effective at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety than medication or cognitive behavior therapy.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research trials and found doing 150 minutes weekly of various types of physical activity (such as brisk walking, lifting weights, and yoga) significantly reduces depression, anxiety, and psychological distress, compared to usual care such as medications, counseling. This is not to say a yoga class is a cure-all. And counseling can be highly effective. Be aware that this is another area that requires some homework; if you don’t, it can be a waste of time, and money and not be beneficial. I once had a therapist just sit there and listen, never offering any advice! For the sake of privacy, I won’t say who, but I know of a child who had six sessions with a therapist, and all they did was play games. While that was an effort to bond with the child, ultimately, it was not a good fit as it was not helping the child. So before securing a therapist (NOT easy these days), do your due diligence.
Exercise has additional benefits that can improve mental health such as:
• Better physical health
• Improved sleep (which plays a critical role in depression and anxiety)
• Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain.
However, when someone is truly depressed, they often can’t bring themselves to exercise. An accountability partner could help, or some light activity around the house. Also, find a practitioner who can get to the root cause of neurological issues, because similar to the previous examples I gave, something else might be happening with you or your child that would explain the symptoms. Quite often, I’ve seen mold and/or Lyme, even diet, as the culprit for anxiety and depression (95% of our serotonin, responsible for regulating mood, is made in your gut, and a deficiency in serotonin causes depression.) I’ve included a list of tips below that can help improve mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, here are some resources:
• Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988
• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
• Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
• Lifeline Crisis Chat (Online live messaging): https://988lifeline.org/chat
• Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
• American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
• National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency Hope Line: 1-800-622-2255
• National Crisis Line – Anorexia and Bulimia: 1-800-233-4357
• LGBT Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
• TREVOR Crisis Hotline: 1-866-488-7386
• AIDS Crisis Line: 1-800-221-7044
• Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
• TransLifeline: https://www.translifeline.org – 877-565-8860
• National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (866) 615-6464 www.nimh.nih.gov
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
(800) 662 – 4357 (24hrs) www.samhsa.gov
• National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 email@example.com nami.org
• BetterHelp Online Therapy Convenient and affordable. betterhelp.com
Digging deeper: I believe these will also help affect positive change for our kids’ future.
VOTE: Voting for a candidate based on their gender, race, or party affiliation is irresponsible. We can’t be lazy — we must do our homework on EACH candidate. There’s too much at risk now. We have a responsibility to know the intentions of each person we want to elect. Do the work. It’s time to fight for our country. It’s time to fight for our children.
GIVE GRACE: It’s OKAY to be different. It’s OKAY to disagree. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is to break the habit of instantly getting defensive when listening to an opposing view or receiving criticism. As much as it physically pained me to sit and listen to criticism, most times, it was a hard truth I needed to hear; or it opened my eyes to a new perspective. We need to stop judging or dismissing people because they have a different opinion. Civil conversations are an opportunity to learn from one another.
PRAY: Where has God gone in our lives? The American family has continued to break down, and we’ve seen a significant decline in faith — all of which can affect mental health. Remember how common it was for families to go to church on Sundays? Being active in faith strengthened our moral compass. And it was at church where we were offered grace, hope, and solutions for our problems. When I was in my darkest storm, the ONLY thing that got me through without sinking into depression was stepping into my faith. It was like free therapy! And I understand some churches/denominations are not welcoming to ‘all.’ To that, I would say, find one that is. They are out there! And many have youth groups for kids and young adults.
A recent conversation with a friend gave me another nugget of insight. She said, “Our world went to hell in a handbasket the minute schoolkids were no longer allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.” (For reference: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”)
Some people will immediately respond with, “What about ‘separation of church and state?’”
Many don’t realize this expression is not found in our Constitution; rather, it was used by Thomas Jefferson in reference to the defense of the First Amendment — which prohibits government interference in religious activities. So then, “separation of church and state” does not refer to the church staying out of the government but instead means that the government must stay out of the church.
A Founding Principle, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” clearly recognizes God as an invaluable part of the founding of this country.
And before we move on, let’s look at the definition of liberty: freedom from arbitrary government or control; independence; freedom from control, interference, obligation, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
In our post-Covid world, we have lost many of those freedoms, and we seem perilously close to losing more. My friend continued, “How is it okay that the government has taken away a woman’s right to choose? How is it okay that the government has more power than parents in making medical choices for their children? But it’s okay to take away the Pledge of Allegiance?!”
Again, I challenge some compromise here. Allow the kids who believe in God to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. For others, offer an opportunity to observe a custom prominent to their backgrounds. Think of what a beautiful lesson it could be to teach our children that we can have different beliefs while respectfully recognizing our differences.
My friend also added:
“Our ‘hurt-feelings’ culture, with the everyone-wins-a-trophy mindset, is taking away the opportunity to teach kids valuable coping skills.”
What it IS teaching them is that they don’t have to put in the same effort as others because they will still be rewarded. This results in no incentive to work hard toward something. The ‘hurt-feelings’ culture seems to have gone from initial good intentions to causing anger and resentment, as acceptance is often ‘demanded’ from this new culture. Consequently, we are left picking up the pieces from a nation that has gone from indivisible to one that is frighteningly more divided than ever.
The solution for mass shootings is figuring out why mass shootings ARE the solution for those who carry them out.
Let’s ask ourselves: What has happened to cause our country’s mental health epidemic? And how do we help our youth struggling with their identity, worth, and sanity? Yet another multi-faceted, complicated, convoluted topic. It may be a small step, but a good start is to remember we are all human beings. We are all connected. But there is a strong force at work determined to break that connection. (Yeah, here’s my ‘kumbaya.’) Look, we don’t have to agree with other people’s personal choices. SO many people are hurting. And we all know hurt people hurt. Let’s try to remember pain is often the catalyst behind choices. Therefore, we have our own choice; to add to that hurt or shine a little light into their darkness.
As I’m wondering how best to wrap this up — with a random Spotify playlist quietly playing in the background — an Elvis Costello song comes on, and the timing, I feel, is no coincidence. “As I walk through this wicked world, searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity, I ask myself, is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred and misery? And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know: What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”
Tips to Improve Mental Health
Exercise — physical activity reduces the symptoms of depression in people with mental illness, and even reduced symptoms of schizophrenia.
Diet — multiple studies have found a correlation between a poor diet and mood disorders, such as depression. With 95% of our serotonin (a neurotransmitter that modulates mood) produced in the gut, avoiding the standard American diet is key. Risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.
Limit Social Media Use — People with mental health conditions reported that social media sites offered them feelings of belonging to a community, but also said that these sites could exacerbate their anxiety and paranoia. Be aware of when you’re being triggered and try to focus on positive posts. Parents, be diligent about checking your kids’ phones, and balance their time with electronics and other activities, even if it’s just ‘being’ in their room. (Legos, drawing, etc.)
Chill Out — The more negatively you respond to small things like having to wait in traffic or having arguments with a spouse, the more anxious and distressed you’re likely to be throughout your life. These moments add up to days, and days add up to years. Focus on things to be grateful for.
Meditate — Meditation can help people with depression or anxiety shift their thoughts away from harmful patterns. Search for guided meditations that work for you and/or your kids.
Get Outside — Studies show spending time outdoors is good for the mind… the greener the better!
Teach Our Kids Coping Skills — It’s okay to allow our kids to fail or suffer disappointment. And the sooner they learn it, the better!
Be Generous in Your Relationships — Studies show that keeping a committed relationship strong can boost your mental health. High levels of generosity with one another contributes to a happy relationship. Being generous in nonromantic relationships can provide a direct mental health boost, too.
Resources: There are MANY more resources available — this is a short list of some I’m familiar with.
• Gun violence prevention — everytown.org
• Find a functional medicine practitioner www.ifm.org
• Healing trauma: Here are three I’m familiar with but note there are SO many other resources available as well. Be sure to find one that resonates with you.
o Dr. Bradley Nelson, author of “The Emotion Code,” He also has an online program to help you heal from home. drbradleynelson.com
o Dr. Aimie Apigian, renowned attachment and trauma specialist. traumahealingaccelerated.com
o Dr. Darren Weissman – The Lifeline Technique® thelifelinecenter.com
• Register to vote here: vote.gov
• Hundreds of Bible plans ranging from three days all the way up to 365 days address topics like depression, anxiety, anger, fear, hope, peace, and healing. There’s also a Bible plan for kids. youversion.com
• Meditation is hard. Guided meditations can help you focus. One that I’ve used for years is from Deepak Chopra (with Oprah doing the open). There are several different topics to choose from. chopra.comapp Encountering Peace provides a more orthodox Christian-focused meditation. encounteringpeace.com There are also several meditation apps available. Search for one that resonates with you.
Elvis Costello (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding
*This is not medical advice and is intended for educational purposes only.
Photo by Rodnae Productions