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Stults It's time to talk about mental health

My name is Kalsey and I’m scared. I’m scared to talk about this. I’m afraid of the reaction from people at the grocery store, people I’ve met briefly, people I work with and people who will never know me more than my picture.

But I’m ready to share what’s in my head and heart.

I’m sure you’ve seen the news this week about the shooting at Harrisburg (S.D.) High School by a 16-year-old that left the principal wounded.

I’m sure you have also seen the tragedy that has unfolded at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where a man -- not much older than me -- walked into classrooms killing at least nine, and lost his own life while leaving behind many injured people physically and emotionally.

I want you to know how strongly I feel that there is an epidemic growing in our country that needs to be fixed or these senseless killings will keep making headlines.

This isn’t an anti-gun column. This is a mental health column.

I’ve witnessed mental health closely with my parents.

First, some background on me: My Mom is bipolar and has spent time in a mental hospital. My Dad is an addict. What I have seen with my parents is that when they got help, they were completely and utterly different. Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

My mom, after returning home from the mental ward, was loving in a way that I didn’t even know existed in her. Her maliciousness and mood swings all but vanished. Then, as expected, she stopped her medication and therapy. The harshness and suicidal tendencies returned.

Before she got help, when I was in ninth grade, she was a monster. I can remember a handful of times when she threatened to kill herself and locked herself in her room with music blaring loudly.

I can also remember my Dad threatening to kill us all once when he was drunk. And, even more vividly, I can remember him driving my Mom, my sister and myself home after being so drunk he couldn’t walk.

Their lives and our lives, treated as if they were insignificant.

The only difference is that, for whatever reason, my parents never carried out their threats.

Nonetheless, I can still feel what it felt like when my whole body went numb and my heart was thumping loudly in my ears as they were screaming at each other, hurling objects through the house, slamming doors and the silence.

The silence always was the scariest because I would anticipate with my whole body the sounds of a gunshot, to walk out of my room and see blood, or to walk in on a lifeless body. It would invade my nightmares routinely. I was preparing myself for what I thought would undoubtedly happen in my world.  

I was embarrassed to talk to anyone at school, a guidance counselor or a teacher, because I felt like if I admitted to anyone what was going on with my parents, they would judge me or think that something was “wrong” with me.

Reading about these school shooters, as well as Vester Flanagan, the man who shot two reporters in Roanoke, Va., a little more than a month ago, I wish the people in their lives were braver than I was. I wish the people who knew them or cared about them forced them to get help.

The signs seemed to have been there for the three shooters that have shaken the U.S. in the past months.

Flanagan had anger issues that ultimately caused him to be fired from the same station he targeted. People described him as angry and that he had a racial agenda. Mason T. Buhl, the student at Harrisburg, S.D., possibly had some anger issues he was battling too, according to reports. His father released a statement discussing how Mason seemed to be mad at everyone while classmates said he was socially awkward and shy.

And the Oregon shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer, seems to have had so many red flags. Like I’ve seen other people say, I don’t want to give him the credit that he wanted so I will avoid talking about him as much as possible.

But isn’t that sad? It has become a common theme in a lot of these mass shootings that the shooter wants fame, wants to be remembered and wants the limelight on them. I can only imagine that they feel so isolated from reality or from relationships with people that they only see their lives, the victims and themselves, as a way to gain in death what they didn’t gain in life.

I can’t fully understand or want to understand what they were thinking. But once I get past my anger and confusion on why they killed innocent people or tried to, I really just wish that whatever demons they were battling had been battled with the help of a professional.

President Barack Obama has said he doesn’t want to see another mass killing in his tenure and touched on tightening gun laws. Gun laws may work on sane people and law-abiding citizens, but the people who are doing these shootings aren’t going to be stopped. In 2015 alone, according to the website Mass Shooting Tracker, there have been 297 shootings that claimed four or more lives, often including the shooter.

Two-hundred ninety-seven. Two-hundred ninety-seven? My head can’t even wrap itself around that number.

As if to really hit home my point, in the middle of writing this, I read the story of a Minot woman who has been sentenced for starving her 13-year-old son to death. If you’d like to read it or re-read it, it is on the front page of our Saturday edition.

The Kenmare woman, Jessica Lee Jensen, talks about how she was sorry she didn’t get the help she needed to take care of her son and how she was “mentally broken.” She said she asked for help several times.

It’s the responsibility of all of us to stop these things from happening when we see the signs. If we did, these types of stories would be few and far between. We need to focus on the real issue, identifying mental illness and providing those afflicted with help.

We need to really start this dialogue, and even though I’m afraid of being vulnerable and sharing this personal story of mine, I’m doing it because I think it’s time that we all start talking about this issue.

It’s time. It has to be.

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