When I taught kindergarten, our school routinely rehearsed lockdown drills. The children tried to be quiet in our “secret spot” as I quickly locked the door, turned off the lights, closed the blinds, and then joined them. We were practicing being safe. Now it sickens me to think of those sweet innocents who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. I pray for the children and staff who survived, the victims’ families, and the first-responders. May our nation act wisely to lessen the likelihood of another such horror as took place in Connecticut.
We will never know exactly what that young man was thinking. Very few of us even understand how things work inside our head. We know much more about the outside of it. We buy products and services to assist the outside—haircuts, makeup, glasses, hearing aids, dental work, hair and skin products, hats; that is the shorter list. There are brain functions that we recognize. It is inside our head that we learn and we love, we hate, speak, create, make choices, empathize, sense, remember, plot, forgive, desire, regret, suffer, rejoice, worship and pray; this list is complicated and extensive. It has been compiling since the Garden of Eden, and it all goes on above our necks. Most of us have no inkling as to how it works. Scientists do.
Neuroscience is a relatively young and exciting area of research. Naturally, words such as prefrontal cortex, dorsolateral and ventromedial regions are unfamiliar to us, but we are acutely aware of imbalances in the brain because we see the results in the news. Not all imbalances result in violence. Many are subtle and only cause pain to the individual and his/her friends and family. It is heartbreaking when someone is too embarrassed or mentally ill to seek treatment or can’t afford mental health care or self-medicates with substance abuse.
If any other part of our body is broken or malfunctioning, we seek medical attention and society sympathizes, insurance companies cover the care, and we often are made whole again. Such is not always the case with mental health problems. Resilient, harsh social stigmas still exist in this area of health and it is only recently that many insurance companies have been forced to cover mental health issues as well as substance abuse treatment.
We test teens for knowledge and health before they enter college. Why not screen them for mental health prior to leaving middle school and high school? Often, parents are the last to realize that their child has progressed beyond a shy or moody teenager. Conversely, what can be done about outpatient care for non-compliant yet diagnosed adults? Professional mental health assessment and intervention in all these areas could dilute a greater problem that might mean a happier, safer life for us all.
If you know someone who is suffering, encourage her/him to seek professional help. If an acquaintance confides concerns about a family member, don’t hesitate to suggest the importance of professional care. Be vigilant, but with kindness. Pause before simply criticizing those with issues contrary to the norm. Social stigmas proliferate out of fear and we tend to fear that which we don’t understand. Pray for that person and her family to receive God’s peace that passes all understanding. Pray for our nation to work together on issues that can change our lives in an instant.
Sharon McAnear grew up in the Texas Panhandle at a time when small towns and farms still thrived, as did the comforting presence of extended families. Her Jemma Series (OakTara) portrays the abiding spirit of church-going farm folks, and reveals their social attitudes, both good and bad, during the late 50s, 60s, and early 70s. Her Stars in My Crown Series (OakTara) is all about the grown-up Jemma earning stars in her heavenly crown by raising her three children. Jemma just wants them to be safe, healthy, and happy; however, it's not that easy. Annalisa wants a relationship with her birth mother (straight out of prison), Andrew has serious health issues that he tries to alleviate with remedies of his own, and overachieving Betsy thinks she's in love with her boss, who is much, much older and has a dubious past. Sharon is also a reader, a hiker, and a frequent visitor to Britain. She confesses to lovingly wallpapering her family's downstairs bathroom with 243 Far Side cartoons one snowy weekend in the late 90s. Sharon lives in Colorado, is currently plotting her next novel, and perhaps sneaking added inspiration from wallpaper.