Arizona Shooting Raises Mental Illness Awareness

With the Arizona shooting still fresh in our minds, there are several burning questions to be answered. Will Rep. Gabrielle Giffords recover to live a normal life? Will the other victims’ families find peace? What will be Jared Loughner’s sentence for his crime?

Most importantly, I wonder why this all happened.  Specifically, what was missed with Loughner? Mental illness may be to blame, but why were none of the warning signs picked up? After the shooting, the media released statements from previous classmates and professors alike, who recounted uneasy experiences with Loughner.

A former professor told CBS that she called 911 during class because Loughner began to rant about her taking away his Constitution rights when she refused to give him full credit for a late assignment. “He was not violent in any way, and he did not threaten anyone directly. But I did feel uneasy,” the former biology professor, Debbie Scheidemantel, told co-anchor Erica Hill on “The Early Show” Erica Hill.

Other peers expressed discomfort about Loughner on Facebook. Comments ranged from Tyler Zuern’s “…he was just always really weird, so I quit hanging out with him” to  Kate Rascon’s “…it is so scary to think how he would sometimes eat lunch with us.”

It’s also been reported by several news services that Loughner was banned from re-enrolling at the Pima Community College without going through an evaluation.

The bottom line is that plenty of people noticed something was off about Loughner, yet not much was done to actually help him. Let me be quite clear here—I am not calling Loughner the victim. I’m simply acknowledging the fact that he had some serious issues that, left untreated, lead to tragedy.

I’d just like to point out that all of these people were aware of his warning signs and, aside from the professor, decided to do nothing. If you ask me, the system failed Loughner. He clearly fell through the cracks. Banning Loughner from attending class until he went through an evaluation was clearly not the solution Pima Community College had hoped for. I’m sure that closing its doors to Loughner only fueled his rage. Obviously, the kid needed help, and just turning him away didn’t solve the problem. It instead gave his mental illness an opportunity to fester and grow.

Perhaps if some students, or even his parents, had reached out to him and suggested he check himself into a mental health facility or institution, this would not have occurred. The same students who called him a friend on Facebook could’ve been his saving grace.

I know it’s a stretch, but think of it this way: when I was in high school, a fellow student committed suicide. I’d met him a few times and saw him as a bit of a loner, a recluse; other students did as well.  When we heard about his death, my high school paper knew it would be a touchy subject to cover.  After contacting his family, however, we realized that it was necessary to do so, if only to build awareness of mental illness. The deceased student suffered from depression; Loughner probably suffered from something more serious, such as schizophrenia. However, regardless of the illness, both needed help that they never received. Many times, individuals who suffer from mental illness are unaware, or even in denial, that they have a problem.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one in four Americans over the age of 18 exhibit symptoms of a mental illness. That averages out to a little over 25 percent of the U.S. population. As alarming as this may sound, only about 6 percent of our population are diagnosed with a serious mental illness.  This percentage matches the number of individuals between the ages of 15 and 44 who are clinically depressed.

The American Psychological Association released a study last August stating that serious mental illnesses are a growing concern for college students. According to the study, 96 percent of the students who visited a clinic in the study were diagnosed with at least one mental illness, whether it be depression or some other ailment.

Now, I’m sure Jared Loughner has more going on than just being a little depressed, but, regardless, every mental illness can be serious and life threatening—both for ourselves and for others.

We now find ourselves approaching the second month of the New Year and for many of us, not much has changed. Many of us continue our old habits of procrastination, which often leads to anxiety. Returning to Seton Hill University (SHU) means returning to studying late into the night and stressing about grades and homework assignments. In our area, seasonal defective disorder is also a cause for concern. If this winter is anything like last winter, we’re in for an interesting couple of weeks.

I guess where I’m going with this is that it’s important to make a difference in someone’s life. Smile when you pass a stranger. If you notice a friend is freaking out over an upcoming exam, offer to help them study. I’m in no way saying that a simple act of kindness would’ve prevented Loughner from committing the horrifying acts that he did, but perhaps things would’ve been different if  someone had taken the time to really communicate with him instead of just shrugging him off as a weirdo.

If you think you are exhibiting symptoms of a mental illness, don’t wait to get help. The Wellness Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For students who aren’t comfortable with speaking face to face, there are plenty of free hotlines for troubled individuals.

Depression is typically identified with chronic sadness. According to webmd.com, common symptoms of depression include:

Trouble with concentration and decision-making

Fatigue

Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness

Insomnia or excessive sleeping

Irritability

Restlessness

Loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities

Loss of appetite or increased appetite

Recurring pain, including cramps and headaches

Thoughts of suicide

Common symptoms of schizophrenia, according to WebMD:

withdraw from social interaction

increased paranoia, delusions and anxiety

appetite & hygiene depletion

hallucinations

depression

feelings of being controlled

Hotlines

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

24 hour Crisis Hotline: 1-800-836-6010

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