When tragedy strikes, it is difficult to know how we will react personally. We can do our best to prepare and remain alert for warning signs, but in reality, we do not know how we will respond until we are in a particular situation. On Oct. 1, the students and employees of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, found themselves facing this horrifying reality. An armed individual took the lives of many, targeting those of the Christian faith. Following the tragedy, conversation has erupted over gun control. Instead of concentrating on gun control and its influence on this situation, however, we are choosing to take this opportunity to focus on mental health awareness. Mental health frequently is overlooked and ignored. As a community, it is our job to spread awareness and acceptance of mental health problems. We fail to address the importance of mental health awareness and to be open about it societally. We must stop shying away from the topic of mental health.Research exists that reflects our natural tendency to accept those with medical and physical disabilities and to reject and isolate those with mental and psychological problems. It is a fatal flaw. Our cultural tendency to be unaccepting of those with mental and psychological illnesses stems from our inability to see their disabilities. This mindset is inconsistent; the inability to see an individual’s suffering should not change our view of them. It is a standard that is insensitive and cruel. We must work together to spread awareness regarding mental health illnesses and accept those who have them. The notion of rejecting an individual on the basis that they behave, think and interact differently than we do is absurd. Stigmas regarding mental health must be changed. All too often we isolate those with mental health disabilities environmentally and socially. There are numerous flaws with that viewpoint.The idea links back to how ridiculous it is to reject someone for being different from us. We often are too closed-minded and hesitant toward those with mental health illnesses. We have the tendency to react negatively to mental illness. Research in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior shows that we commonly stereotype those with mental disabilities as dangerous, rejecting and isolating them due to this preconceived and faulty notion.The shooting at Umpqua Community College represents a terrible tragedy, but it also provides an opportunity to expand our knowledge and awareness positively regarding mental health. Instead of focusing on gun control, we see this tragedy as a call to action. Since the shooting occurred, many sources have speculated about the gunman’s mental condition. So far, investigators have not uncovered proof that he suffered from a diagnosed mental illness, but many of those who suffer from such disabilities remain undiagnosed. That’s why, regardless of the shooter’s mental condition, we must transform this conversation and move in a direction that will positively impact our society. We have an obligation to spread awareness, debunk stigmas and provide greater support for those suffering from mental illness. We hope you choose to follow suit.
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