On the evening of 23 September, 2016, a young man opened fire at Macy’s in Cascade Mall killing five people. In the place I bought my prom dress, a wedding dress, had dates, worked when I was first in college, hung out with my friends as we talked about life and the important things like boys and fashion. 25 years ago I might have been in this mall, I might have been in that Macy’s (though it was the Bon Marche back then). I awoke the next morning to a police stand off, it was midnight there. I felt disbelief, horror, anger, and an overwhelming sense of despondency at the situation in general in the United States. The shooter came from Oak Harbor, my hometown, graduated with my “little sister,” and like everyone else I’m left with the question as to Why?

Oak Harbor

I grew up in a military town about 90 miles North of Seattle on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. We lovingly referred to it as “The Rock” in reference to Alcatraz, the famous prison island off the coast of San Francisco. It was a great, safe, semi-isolated place to grow-up. The greatest divide was between the Officers and the Enlisted and skin colour meant far less then your daddy’s rank. If you were outside of the military structure you were just a local. Some had more, others had less, but overall no one had any real true wealth, which actually put most of us on a level playing field none of us understood at the time.

The under current of the town was one of surprise inspections and safely guarded reputations. Although it was beginning to change in the 1990’s, men’s careers were made or broken by the actions of their wives and children, and we all acted accordingly even if we were local. Being pressed and polished was what you did. The peacetime Navy was highly political, and we even risked the government closing our base to funnel our resources into California. There was an environment of judgment, and everyone participated like you would in any small town.

Mental Health

If you suffer from poor mental health, from disorders like Bipolar as I do, small towns can certainly be the death of you… literally. Upon hearing the details of the shooter, my heart immediately hurt for him. Why would I feel sorry for a kid who willingly entered a shopping mall with a rifle and proceeded to kill five people!??? My answer: No sane person would conceive of hurting others for his own hurt. No sane person…

Again, and again, we see this same scenarios play out, and each time we blame the shooter, mental health issues and all. I argue that as a society we have a duty, not only to protect ourselves, but to help these individuals before they pick up as rifle and enter a public space. Knowing what growing up in Oak Harbor is like, I know the issues that kid faced. I know the hurts, the judgments, the lack of responsibility taken by other’s for their role in this very real drama. The first one to break down the is the first one to be blamed. This kid broke.

Sandy Hook, Newton, Aurora, Tucson… Time and again it happens, yet it continues to happen. We spend billions of dollars to combat terrorism, yet we can’t seem to stop mass shootings on American soil. I have an idea, lets start seriously looking into mental health and make it priority to give treatment and assistance to those who need it! Would treatment have helped stop this latest shooting? I honestly do not know. I am sure of one thing though, if we start getting serious about mental health we can sure change the lives of many other people for the better.

Finding Solutions

People with mental disorders are hurting, much like, though in a different way from those with physical disorders. They  look fine on the outside, maybe they give you a weird vibe, but just by looking at them they seem fine. People interviewed by the news said this kid “gave them the creeps,” people thought he was odd. No one could have known he would pick up a gun and go shopping for victims. But what if that could have been stopped by a proper system of mental health in the United States?

Affordable and comprehensive, and available for everyone. A system that works with the schools from preschool to university, teaching students things like mindfulness and meditation, and educating pupils and staff about warning signs and triggers. I believe a system like this would catch people sooner, giving them hope not just despair that they will continue in a life of judgment and worry.

I don’t believe any system would completely stop these mass shootings, but I earnestly do believe that a broad mental health system would go a long way in helping to drastically reduce these. America is not going to give up it’s guns any time soon, so we need to start finding productive ways to stop mass shootings. If people are going to have guns, lets at least make sure that the people are mentally sane when they pick one up.