Steve Jobs once said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do,” so here I go.
As a mental health clinician in a prison, I am no stranger to stories. One day I asked an offender, one year younger than myself, “Do you mind me asking what happened?” As he told me his story of how he earned a life ticket to prison, I listened with pain in my heart. He spoke of a lost path consumed by drugs and confusion. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but reflect on the world as I know it. A world lacking compassion, consumed by fear. A society that presents itself from a place of projection, and is driven by insecurities. A society afraid to be seen, hiding under a mask. A world ignorant to the realities of life. The longer I reflected, the stronger my desire to share became.
You see friends, we all struggle. Our paths all look different, but at the end of the day, we all have bumps in the road. It’s easy to fear what we don’t know. It’s a piece of pie to project your insecurities and fear towards your neighbors. It’s easier to speak hate than reflect inward and sit with the uncomfortable feelings that come with being human.
As I listened to the offender's story, I couldn’t help but reflect on the war against guns. His story involved a gun, but it also included a lost path consumed by substances. My heart ached because I believe with every ounce of my soul that guns are not the issue, society is. We live in a society lacking compassion, drowning in fear. I want to break this down for you real quick. A gun carries a bullet. It takes a human finger to pull the trigger. If the trigger is pulled by the said human, a bullet will exit the barrel. Guns don't kill people. People kill people. What would it look like if we took the blame off the guns and identified the person as the problem?
Let's say a person struggling with substance abuse shoots someone. We could identify the substances as the problem. What if we explored what drove a person to use substances in the first place. Were drugs the only thing strong enough to numb the pains of abuse and trauma? Were they using substances to cope with symptoms of mental illness? If so, we’ve now established trauma and/or mental illness as a factor. What would it look like if we were proactive at getting this person help before a gun was even brought into the equation?
In 2017, 39,773 Americans died by a gun. Within that number, 23,854 people died from suicide by guns. In this same year, 47,173 Americans died by suicide with an estimated 1,400,000 attempts. That is an average of 129 suicides per day. You all, if the suicide statistics don’t tell you something than I don’t know what will. More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. Over 44 million American adults have a mental health condition with 1 in 5, or 9 million adults lacking mental health resources.
You see, guns are not the problem. Instead of being a reactive nation, let's be proactive. Let's make mental health a kitchen table issue and break the stigma. Let’s provide more treatment for individuals struggling with substance abuse. When you work in a prison and hear stories all day, it changes you. Your fears subside, and compassion creeps in. It took me coming to prison to gain this awareness. Mental health and trauma are real, and we are surrounded by it. I’ve never met one person who landed themselves in prison, whose story didn’t stem from trauma, neglect, or abuse.
For change to occur, we need to find compassion. Compassion for ourselves would be a great place to start. Educating ourselves is a close second, and I’m not talking about years of schooling. I am talking about life education. The lessons you learn through connection and engagement. The insights and knowledge you gain from talking to a total stranger. We also need courage! Courage to show up every day as our authentic self. Fear is the driver of our lives, and it’s time we take hold of the steering wheel. Our world is consumed by hate, and I believe this hate is fed by fear. That's not to say your fear isn't valid, but what would it look like if we stepped out from behind the curtain of fear and felt the warm sun, shine on our face.
I have no statistics to back this, but logic can easily identify that there is a positive correlation between the increase in gun violence and fear within society. What would it look like if we filled schools with counselors instead of armed security officers? Helping professionals who can teach kiddos how to effectively regulate emotions and cope with trauma and bullying. What if importance was placed on mental health? More resources provided for counseling, medication management, and treatment? What would it look like if resources were made available and individuals were taught how to effectively cope with their symptoms in a healthy way? Just like an onion has layers, so does societies problems. Instead of placing blame, lets peel back the layers and identify the core problem.
Friends, we need to educate ourselves about the realities of the world and realize no one is immune to mental illness or trauma. Just like making drugs illegal didn’t fix the drug problem, banning guns will not fix the problem either. Where can we start? Educate your kiddos on the power of compassion and empathy. Show them how to live their life from a place of courage rather than fear. Be present with your babies and mindful of their struggles. In this fast-paced, technology-filled world, attachment issues are real. Validate the youth for their strengths instead of placing all the focus on their weaknesses. Smile at your neighbor and make eye contact with your sales clerk. Develop healthy coping skills, engage in self-care, seek help when help is needed, and remember you are not alone. Let’s come together as a society, state, world, and rejoin hands. Let’s close the doors to hate and open our hearts to compassion. Let’s stop judging, projecting, and pointing fingers.
What would it look like to live your life from a place of courage as opposed to fear? You are capable of so much light and love. All it takes is one person to create a ripple effect, and I will be that person. I’ll stand up and say what we are doing isn’t working. Friends, let’s come together and make a change!
A girl who believes in a better future
💛 If you agree with this, I ask you to please share it. This message needs to be thrown around like confetti.