Tuesday, January 10, 2017

let's talk about mental health

On the MTR, two men got into a huff because they were crammed into a packed train car and kept bumping into each other. There was a lot of yelling and gesturing but that was all. Outside of my neighborhood local, a drunk man tried to pick a fight with another drunk man and their friends stepped in to calm them down. I think about this a lot - that we experience annoyance and offense as frequently in Hong Kong as we do in the US, but somehow we manage to avoid going lethal with our conflicts. All too often, we hear about arguments escalating into physical confrontations or worse. We have police forces that arm themselves like Rambo but are so terrified of certain stereotypical people that they fall into shooting sprees at the slightest hint of discomfort. We have "stand your ground" laws that protect hair trigger gun owners for shooting anyone who they might possibly feel scared of, even unarmed, teenage boys that they chased down and tackled. Every day is another story on the news of another panicked or enraged American using their gun instead of their head. Couldn't you have stepped away? No, I must stand my ground.

I think that this very American attitude is troubling to the point where I wonder if it is a mental health issue. Surely we can't call people healthy if they have no ability to cope with conflict and are so indifferent to other humans as thinking, sentient beings that it is easy to dismiss their right to life? When did we become a society of sociopaths?

I'm not going deep into the gun ownership debate because I don't think it is really the problem though it is very much a symptom. I think that our failure to treat mental health is the bigger problem, however I don't think that we should be making it so easy to access guns if we aren't taking on mental health issues. I don't know how many more mass shootings we need before we start to take steps to provide better services to vulnerable and disturbed people. Almost everyone will need some help at some time in their lives. Everyone becomes sad, angry, stressed, etc. and we need ways to relieve pressure and work through it. We shouldn't stigmatize people who need help and I think that we have plenty of reasons why ignoring troubled people is a very bad idea.


My friend Stephen was all over the news this weekend. He was a very fortunate man whose Macbook and backpack absorbed a bullet at the Fort Lauderdale airport. He gave several interviews discussing his concerns regarding mental health awareness and treatment in the US. In the end, he was a five second sound bite. He is understandably disappointed about this, so I will use my little blog to tell the story for him. Below are his words.

"What has disappointed me the most:
After that Friday of Fridays, I agree to a Saturday 5:30am pick-up at my hotel to chat with Good Morning America and ABC News. While no compensation too place, the handler/booker insists on my story's exclusivity (which seemed to have indicated a comprehensive story to my naive self) -- and we drive around the airport aimlessly in circles, with the driver pretending not to know where to park (Bueller, maybe where the 50 media trucks are lined up?), clearly eating-up time so that the competitors have less of a window to talk to me after the sun comes up. Then we arrive after the fourth loop at the obvious media lot. I then sit in the car to wait my turn on camera for way too long -- the engine running and car beeping because the driver was outside talking with a co-worker. (Do you know what that kind of beeping might do to a nervous mind who didn't sleep the night previously? Edgar Allan Poe Tell-Tale Heart kinda head games. I had to turn the car off myself from the passenger side.) I tell my expected story, including how I want both justice for the victims and their families AND more attention for our country's mental health care protocol. Total air time for GMA: 5 seconds. All that stress, mental energy at dawn, and expectations of exclusivity for that? I was told that a lot of content needed to be included, so sorry. Didn't you know that before you asked me for 10 minutes of story-telling? Lesson learned. This is how the game is played. The cutting-room floor is gigantic.
So in advance of any additional media requests:
(1) Yes, you need me to talk about the laptop. I get it... And we MUST lean-in and talk about our country's mental health needs for 60% or more of the interview. I am 17-year counselor yet will always be the son of a Chief Master Sergeant. In this and many ways, I know how to hold a set of opposites in each hand.
- OR -
(2) Please leave me alone. My uncompensated and wasted time in your ratings pursuit is time that I'm not on the phone with my mom, boyfriend, coworkers, friends -- or trying to sleep."

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