mental health

On the Other Side of Suicide

Robin Williams, Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
Robin Williams, Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

I log onto Facebook every day. It tells me that it’s OK to talk about a bad date, to engage in family arguments for all to see, or even to display how envied one believes him/herself to be via self-portraits from a bathroom mirror.

Let’s be honest. Social media has caused an eruption of platforms in which people across the globe feel comfortable laying it all out there. There is a certain acceptance of divulging personal information that my parents’ generation wouldn’t dare ever bring up in a private forum, much less a public one. This phenomenon raises the question: If it’s OK to talk about almost anything these days, why are important topics still being held captive in the land of anonymity?

Abortion. Incest. Rape. Bankruptcy. Depression. Mental illness.

And then there’s suicide.

So why write about it now? Because I fell into the trap of ignoring an important topic simply because it had never hit close to home. And then came the phone call.

The Lunacy of a Nation

Student with a gun at school, LoloStock / Shutterstock.com
Student with a gun at school, LoloStock / Shutterstock.com

On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.

He was an athlete, a soccer coach, a people pleaser, a brother, a son. He had a girlfriend, and he loved to make people laugh.

Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.

Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.

What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.

We Need to Talk About Mental Health

Heart and mind. Vector image courtesy frikota/shutterstock.com
Heart and mind. Vector image courtesy frikota/shutterstock.com

One in four individuals will suffer with a mental health issue in a given year — and that these statistics can often be our friends, family, or ourselves. After tragedies like what happened in Isla Vista and on Seattle Pacific’s campus, we listen to the voices of victims’ families and mourn with them as they share stories of their lost loved ones. But we ignore an even more painful story about the lives of the gunmen.

The Most Ignored and Undervalued People Within Churches Today

Bocman1973/Shutterstock
People with disabilities are among those often ignored by churches. Bocman1973/Shutterstock.com

Churches are supposed to be communities that represent Christ’s infinite love — and many of them do — but certain groups of people seem to be continually ignored, alienated, undervalued, and simply lost within American churches. Leadership structures, social expectations, religious values, and traditions within faith communities have a tendency to favor some groups but not others, resulting in discrimination instead of equality, exclusion instead of acceptance, and prejudice instead of fairness. 

Please Stop Calling Your Relatively Privileged Life 'Crazy' and 'Messy'

Man using Instagram to share photo, 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Man using Instagram to share photo, 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

A few weeks ago, I asked folks on Twitter, and specifically, my colleague Amy Simpson, who has recently published a book on mental illness and the mission of the church:

What do you think about the way people use words like “bipolar,” “crazy,” and “manic” when they really mean “moody,” “energetic,” “quirky” and even “fun?"

It’s part of a pattern I’ve noticed lately — and maybe you’ve noticed it too.

People with beautiful head shots, flawlessly designed websites, and enviable accomplishments insist that they are really just a ‘mess.’ Or that their families are ‘crazy.’ Or that their homes and lives are every bit as complicated and frustrating as everyone else’s … meanwhile, their Instagram feeds show nothing but beauty; if ‘chaos’ is there, it’s only ever of the picturesque kind.

There are no birdcages sprouting stalagmites and stalactites of bird droppings. There are no snotty-nosed, unwashed, half-dressed, hungry children who’ve never visited a dentist in their lives. There is food in the fridge and on the table, and it isn’t even growing mold or crawling with roaches or undulating with maggots. In fact, it’s from Trader Joe’s and may even be organic! There is no broken glass or police officers showing up because the neighbors heard screaming. There is electricity and running water and indoor toilets.

Yeah, there’s raised voices and tempers and conflicts. But that makes you human. Not crazy. Not dysfunctional. Not “a mess.”

Antoinette Tuff: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com
Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Matthew 5:9

The news cycle, the blogosphere, and social justice advocates often focus upon crisis, tragedy, and pain. Moments of freedom, of healing and hope are often drowned out by the cacophonous sounds of self-interest, fear and danger. Today I’d like to silence that cacophony and trumpet loudly about the brave and humble Antoinette Tuff, a peacemaker filled with the Spirit of God, who faced a gunman with her arsenal of love and compassion and saved a school full of children.

Antoinette Tuff’s faith and courage changed the outcome of history on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It is a day that will not live in infamy. Unlike other days that started on a similar path to violence, families did not grieve the loss of their children to the would-be mass gunman who walked into an elementary school with almost 500 rounds of ammunition. Police were scrambled to the scene, but did not have to evacuate classrooms of frightened children watching for a shooter. In fact, despite the heavily armed suspect and a heavily armed law enforcement response, not one person lost their life.

Since Aurora, a Steady Stream of Mass Killings

Following the movie theatre massacre in 2012 that killed 12 people, 126 others have died due to similar events involving mass killings. USA Today reports such tragedies are more “typical” than people think reporting that approximately every two weeks since 2006, a mass killing has occurred somewhere in the United States. USA Today reports:

A USA TODAY database of these shootings over the past seven years shows that what Americans experienced over the past calendar year is sadly typical. There have been 14 such incidents since Jan. 1 of this year, while 2012 actually had a low for the reporting period: 22 mass killings. The high was 37 in 2006, the first year of the examination. (The FBI defines mass killings as murders that occur in a short time span and in which four or more people are killed.)

Read more here.

What Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy Teaches Us About the Stigma of Mental Illness

Angelina Jolie / Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shutterstock.com
Angelina Jolie / Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shutterstock.com

On Tuesday, Angelina Jolie became the face of preventative mastectomy. In a beautifully worded New York Times op-ed, the actress said she opted for a double mastectomy after learning she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer, adding, “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

In the hours following the publication of Jolie’s story, others came forward with their own stories, and the media coverage since has been non-stop. However, when a similarly famous actress, Catherine Zeta Jones, came forward with her diagnosis of bipolar II disorder, it made only a news ripple compared to the crashing wave of coverage Jolie’s disclosure has received. Don’t get me wrong — Jolie’s announcement is hugely significant and part of a much-needed conversation. But mental illness should be afforded the same level of discourse. Perhaps talking about mental illness isn’t as fascinating as talking about an actress’s decision about her breasts, but talk about it we must — and unfortunately not even a courageous disclosure made by a beautiful and famous actress like Catherine Zeta Jones is enough to get that conversation started.

A Lenten Reflection on 'The Least of These'

Mental health illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com
Mental health illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

As a seminary graduate and a Masters of Social Work student, I have a passion for social justice and working to improve the wellbeing and health of vulnerable populations. After seminary, during my time as a youth leader, we often turned to Matthew 25:31-46, the familiar passage about “the least of these,” and discussed God’s emphasis on justice and serving the marginalized in our societies.

My time as a social work student, particularly through my current class on international social work, has expanded my concept of the “least of these.” We have learned about some of the most vulnerable populations around the world – child soldiers in Uganda and Colombia, young girls trafficked into the sex trade in Cambodia, HIV/AIDS patients from Haiti, migrants left to die in the desert while trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border, and the list continues. These concepts were not completely unknown to me and would likely not be new to you either. This past week, however, we studied a different topic, one that has not drawn as much media attention – global mental health.

Obama, Biden Announce Gun Violence Reduction Plan

Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his final news conference of his first term. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced today a comprehensive plan to address gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. The plan includes calling on Congress to require universal background checks, restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and 10-round limit to magazines, and implement stronger punishment for gun trafficking. The plan also includes measures aimed at increasing school safety and access to mental health services.

"This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged," Obama said, accompanied children who wrote to the White House calling for an end to gun violence. 

In the 33 days since the Sandy Hook shooting, "more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun," Obama said. "… every day we wait, that number will keep growing."

Biden, who has met with more than 200 groups representing various interests including law enforcement and people of faith, said the nation has a "moral obligation" to do everything in its power to address gun violence.

The announcement comes a day after faith leaders, including Sojourners president and CEO Jim Wallis, publicly called for many of the same measures, including reinstating the assault weapons ban, closing background check loopholes, and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

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