No matter where we stand on gun control, we can all agree that unnecessary gun violence happens in this country and that something needs to be done to change this. One potential way that we can begin to answer the debate on gun violence is to become more attentive to recognizing warning signs of potential shooters, as well as diagnosing and addressing mental illness. According to the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise, most criminal gun violence is committed by individuals who lack mental wellness (coping skills, anger management, and other socio-emotional skills). The stigma surrounding mental wellness and mental health in general often prevents it from being a dinner-table conversation. Mental illnesses are usually not seen in this society as actual illnesses like low blood pressure or diabetes. Instead, they are stereotyped. We are brought up to believe that depressed people keep to themselves, are negative and nihilistic all of the time, and seek isolation. When, in reality, depression is a fluid mental illness, not conforming to one specific stereotype that we can compartmentalize people in.
More than 90% of individuals who die from suicide using a gun had a diagnosable mental disorder. Ninety percent. That’s 9 for every 10 of the 640 children under 18 that will die this year from suicide by gunshot. That’s 576 people with entire futures ahead of them. It is time to open up the conversation about mental illness, and make it something that we as a society recognize, accept, and take seriously. Whether you stand on a more conservative platform that seeks to preserve historic second amendment rights and avoid government regulation, or whether you come from a liberal viewpoint of desiring greater background checks and regulation over weapons like guns, I think one thing we can all agree on is that gun-related deaths as a result of mental illness are preventable. They simply require the re-orienting of our society to become accepting to mental illness, willingness to discuss its omnipresence, and commitment to destroying the stigmas that currently exist.