It’s amazing how this one word, popular, can create such havoc. I usually attribute this word to tweens and teens as they navigate through the social strata in middle school and high school. But discovering the deadly shootings at UCSB; an area I was supposed to be camping near this past Memorial Day weekend, I gritted my teeth.
I watched an almost seven minute YouTube video of the 22 y/o gunman talk about popularity and being a loner. His day of retribution against women and humankind had arrived last Friday, leaving seven people in its wake. This was his way of dealing with disappointment. When life dealt him lemons he didn’t make lemonade. Instead, he chose to cut down the entire lemon tree.
As a parent and member of society I am scared. Has our society become this? Loners and suicides and deadly shootings? What should be an anomaly has become the norm. The final act to be trending and popular.
How can we redefine popular?
Again I am driving and my kids notice my silence. My SUV is lined up behind other cars at the back gate of the junior high my son attends. When asked what was wrong I spoke of the senseless deaths at the UCSB campus last Friday. They listen as I talk to our school front office through my car speakers. As a parent I try to remain immune to the fears of random acts of violence. I think that my community, my values will keep my kids safe. This won’t happen to me.
But it can. Because one of those victims attended my children’s same schools, her family home within a mile of my own. The same church. Our community reels as I listen to the front office’s talks of purchasing candles for a vigil. After dropping off my sons I drive by the park where her vigil will take place this evening. I am not isolated in my bubble; safe. None of us are.
Mental illness. It doesn’t get the attention like heart disease, cancer, AIDS. It is swept under the radar. When are we going to do something about it? It is the white elephant that always is in the room. We talk of tighter gun control, the black market. But the stigma of depression and mental illness needs to be lifted. Discussed in our schools.
My boys just went through an outdated, uneventful presentation of family life aka sex education. What we really need are counselors proactively in our classrooms, talking about mental illness with our kids. We need forums for our parents with medical professionals and law enforcement, to learn how to catch the warning signs. We already have these forums for sex and drugs in our secondary schools. Only then can we make these random acts of violence unpopular. Only then can we affect some kind of change.
I am pretty pissed off. Angry for all the families who have lost their children in this senseless manner; even the gunman’s parents. It’s easy to point the finger at them for not reining in their son; for not cutting him off financially. What if YOU are the parent of a child diagnosed with mental illness? When these tragedies happen each and every one of these parents cringe. They worry, could this be my son next? This isn’t about some single, affluent, white male with access to guns. If you believe that, then you have your head in the sand.
Mental illness is not going away. Sheltering our children and nation from these issues propogates the stigma it carries. We need to address the white elephant in the room. I share this with my boys; the angry mom in the SUV. The white elephants are never popular. My girlfriend’s daughter has learned to deal with life’s disappointment; wearing the shirt above. She’s discovered how to navigate through what’s popular. It’s time to change the momentum for our children and affect change.