CNN’s Van Jones welcomed James Shaw Jr. onto his show over the weekend. Mr. Shaw is famous for demonstrating a great deal of courage when he disarmed and tackled the man who opened fire at a Nashville Waffle House in April, thereby saving perhaps dozens of lives.
Much of the interview focused on Mr. Shaw’s thoughts on the gun problem in America today, which he described as having more to do with systemic lapses in the care of those with mental illnesses than guns themselves. “If you can try to focus on that person, and you can try to make that person mentally better, then you won’t get to that,” Mr. Shaw said. “There won’t be that kind of violence.”
This has become a common point in the debate about gun violence in America. While some stress the need for stricter gun regulations, others believe that the number of mass shootings in the United States will not be reduced without changing how our culture approaches issues of mental health. They argue that we should not ostracize or ignore those who struggle with mental illness, as this will make them ashamed for seeking the treatment that they need. In many cases, they may never seek it. This can have dire consequences.
While removing the stigma surrounding mental illness may not be a panacea for America’s gun problem, it is a step in the right direction. Making it more acceptable to talk about issues of mental health will lead to greater compassion for those afflicted with the disease and more awareness about just how common mental illness is. As more Americans acknowledge that mental illness has genetic and environmental causes, and that symptoms arise due to chemical imbalances in the brain, a greater number of people will feel comfortable approaching a medical professional for treatment or suggesting that a friend or loved one see a medical professional should they demonstrate signs of mental illness. Such an intervention could save lives
By acknowledging that mental illness is a medical condition that requires a medical professional to diagnose and treat, we can take the first steps toward ensuring that everyone receives the treatment they need.
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