Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Control

For the past several months I’ve been engaged in significant research to use in a book I’m writing with the simple title of “Trauma.” My reason for this project is to inform potential readers of the scope and magnitude of this serious condition. Because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the public like never before, has begun to become aware of the acronym called PTSD with little genuine grasp of what this matter means. The ordinary grasp is that it is a mental disorder caused by engaging in wars and the traumatic result. Fleshed out, the acronym, in simple terms, means “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” While descriptive, most people still equate PTSD only with wars. The restriction to wars is a vastly, simplistic distortion and the distortion is undergirding a very serious social issue that is presently a hot topic: mental health as it may relates to gun control.

Because of the horrific slaughter that occurred on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Newtown, Connecticut, there has been an appropriate public outcry for gun control and a related discussion regarding the mental health system. There is little dissent that these two social issues are related and both will ultimately be governed by politics.

It should come as no surprise that economic hard times are traumatic. It is also very clear that such times have not been experienced since the Great Depression. The difference now is that gun sales are at record levels (and increasing daily) at the same time that we are facing an economic Armageddon. The result is vast cuts to programs that could possibly detect and be of service to millions of traumatized citizens. Public funding for both mental health and the justice system (e.g. police, facilities of incarceration, courts, etc.) is being slashed in an effort to reign in Federal and State debts.

One meaningful problem is the lack of an adequate understanding of the scope and depth of trauma that has not been digested, combined with shrinking resources to address and treat it. Presently mental health statistics result from measuring how companies provide insurance for their workers and/or information coming from health care facilities (hospitals, psyche wards, health care workers). What is not being measured is the mental health of the millions who are off the chart because they no longer are employed (and are thus not measured).

Unaddressed trauma creates an interconnected matrix that is not pretty. Some of the classic symptoms are flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even years at a time, upsetting dreams about the traumatic event, feeling emotionally numb, avoiding activities you once enjoyed, hopelessness about the future, memory problems, trouble concentrating, difficulty maintaining close relationships, irritability or anger, overwhelming guilt or shame, self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or abusing drugs, trouble sleeping, being easily startled or frightened, and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there. In addition are hyperarousal symptoms that are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of traumatic events. They can make the person feel stressed and/or angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating and manifest as anxiety, depression and panic attacks. And nearly every one of these conditions can result in catastrophe, including lashing out, in unpredictable ways to harm those traumatized and others who a traumatized person deems responsible for their condition. A true prescription for disaster is the mixture of these conditions together with unrestricted gun availability.

Trauma is trauma regardless of source. It can result from domestic abuse, rape, witnessing horrifying situations, and many other factors that are currently increasing. Trauma is not just the result of war. It is that and much more. In the discussions, which will surely occur concerning gun control, the related issue of mental health MUST be factored in. It makes very little sense to regulate an instrument of violence (guns) without considering the conditions leading to violence. The common mantra voiced by those who resist tampering with The Second Amendment is, “Guns don’t kill people; People do” is a dangerously overly simplified glossing that must be recognized for what it is. Until we as a nation address the health care system that treats people at risk, this problem, exemplified by Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech and the massacre that occurred at Columbine High School will just go on and we will continue to wring our hands and remain perplexed.  
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