Consortium Community Mental Health Center

Hunker down – it’s a long one.

Let me quickly dispense with the apology – after making a dramatic declaration to donate $5 a week to charity, I continued my time honored tradition of abandoning a good idea shortly after having it.  While there are plenty of reasonable excuses (running a business during high-season, a death in my immediate family, general holiday madness), I had a recent, visceral response to – yet again – another national tragedy.  Since the catalyst for starting this blog in the first place was to respond to tragedy/inequality with action, now is a good time to pick up where I left off.

3 days ago the country suffered yet another mass shooting, this time in an elementary school in affluent Newtown, CT.  No sooner did the first responders arrive on the scene than my Facebook feed exploded with “Down with the NRA!” “Guns don’t kill people! People kill people!”  “Guns don’t kill people; they just make it easier for crazy people to kill more people more quickly!” “Now is not the time to talk politics; now is the time to grieve!” “Mental health needs to be a priority!” ZOMG!!!1!!  You’re ALL right/wrong.

Personal responsibility.  I’m not sure it’s something that a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about, but it’s a constant topic of conversation and contemplation in my life.  If my credit score is lacking, it’s because I didn’t pay a bill on time – not because my bank is screwing me over.  If I gain weight and feel crummy, it’s because I’m not eating my vegetables – not because the “food” industry is conspiring to addict me to junk food and take my money (well they ARE, but my health is still my responsibility.)  Now I’m not talking about “acts of God” – I certainly don’t think people are responsible for hurricanes and tsunamis (our role in global warming notwithstanding).  Of course, there are LAYERS of responsibility, but at the end of the day it ALL comes down to personal responsibility – or for a little added religious flavor – free will.

The Newtown, CT shooter was a sick kid with easy access to assault weapons.  So whose fault was it?  Was it his?  His mother’s? The politicians who won’t stand up to the lobbyists and are afraid to lose votes? The gun lobbyists who bully voters and politicians to get their way?  Gun enthusiasts who insist that regulating their constitutionally protected right is the same as tyranny? The gun manufacturers who profit from selling bigger, badder, MORE guns? The health insurance providers who drop customers for mental health diagnoses? Corporate shareholders for demanding higher and higher yields at whatever expense?  The media for sensationalizing tragedy and giving the next shooter a record to break? A general public obsessed with 24-hour news and reality TV schadenfreude? Yes.

So I have to sit here and ask myself, “What did I do – or didn’t do – that contributed in ANY way to this tragedy?”  I don’t live anywhere near Newtown, I VOCALLY oppose reality TV, I don’t own a gun, I vote when I can, I don’t own stock in any publicly traded blood money companies… what personal responsibility can I take?  Let’s make a list; I like lists.

1) I can write letters to my representatives to let them know where I stand on these issues – guns, health care (mental, behavioral and otherwise), business regulation.  Because despite what you may think, now IS the time to talk about these issues.  As one friend pointed out, the Newtown shooting wasn’t even the first mass, public shooting THIS WEEK.  If we’re always waiting for the dust to settle before starting a conversation, it will never happen. Unless you are personally attending the funeral of someone who died in the shooting, you SHOULD be taking action today.  I already started reading bills on whitehouse.gov (bills I didn’t even know were on the table) and will be following up.  Did you know you can e-mail your representatives with, like, 3 clicks from the NRA’s website? They make it so easy!

2) I can share a quick story with my Facebook friends to do my small part to destigmatize mental health problems: When I was 4, both of my parents were diagnosed as substance abusers.  Mom went into rehab after almost dying from alcohol poisoning, and dad followed shortly thereafter.  They are both recovering alcoholics and still – after 25 years of sobriety – struggle with their condition and attend regular AA meetings.  Alcohol dependence IS a mental health disorder (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and it’s touched my life directly.  And if you know my parents, you’ll know that a mental health diagnosis is not the end of the world and you can live a full and awesome life.  So if you need help, go get it.  Or call me and I’ll personally work to help you get it.  (And yes, I realize the second “A” in “AA” stands for Anonymous, but if you know my parents you’d also know that they’re not shy about sharing.)

3) I can have a conversation with my husband (a theatrical fight coordinator who regularly uses stage weapons – including firearms, blanks, and gun accessories) to see what he can do to continue helping artists produce realistic drama without giving more money to weapons manufacturers.

4) I can donate money to organizations who are working to help youth with mental health issues.  There is not nearly enough health care to go around for people without health insurance, and there are many great nonprofits picking up the slack.  A quick Google search helped me find The Consortium, a community mental health provider in West Philadelphia.  I’ve poked around on their website for a little bit and it seems that they are doing good work in an underrepresented, low-income area and I want to give them $5.  (I used PayPal – it took me literally 30 seconds.)

So that’s it.  I took 15 minutes, spent $5, and identified a few ways that I PERSONALLY could take responsibility for Friday’s tragic shooting.  And if everyone in this county (including all the people I listed above) did the same thing, imagine the results.  And if it’s been a while, give John Lennon’s “Imagine” another listen.  It’s worth it.

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