Since I am heavily involved in my community as the Neighborhood Watch Committee Chairperson, I decided to attend the local police department's 12-week Citizens Police Academy. We meet every Thursday evening for 2 - 3 hours, depending on the topic. I've learned about things such as SWAT, hostage negotiation, traffic stops, building searches, crime scene investigations and officer safety. Last week's topic impacted me so much that I spent the drive home in tears.
The aforementioned topic was ASE, or Active Shooter Events. If that term is confusing, think Columbine, Virginia Tech or Fort Hood. Think of one or more person(s), armed with guns, attacking innocent groups of people, usually for revenge, fame or infamy, trying to rack up a high body count.
I'm sure I don't need to explain to you that the topic itself is upsetting. While ASEs can be traced back to 1764 (really!), the increase in the last two decades is at the least alarming and at the most, terrifying. The presentation was Texas State University's program to educate civilians about what ASEs are and how to deal with them if a person finds him/herself facing one. Local officers have delivered this presentation to all of the area school districts, some businesses, churches, military bases and hospitals. The local school district has incorporated "lockdown drills" along with the fire drills that have been routine for decades. I must admit, visualizing my teenage daughter going through a lockdown drill makes me sad and angry.
While I hate to give attention to negative things, hearing this presentation brought up a few issues in my mind. There was ONE slide in the PowerPoint that briefly addressed what someone may feel after going through a trauma like this. The officer that was teaching us started to gloss over the fact that many people develop PTSD and PTSD-like symptoms. Almost involuntarily, I shouted, "Getting help is not a sign of weakness! It's a sign of strength!" Fortunately for me, the officer agreed and elaborated a bit more about the importance of getting professional help after going through an ASE.
The presentation also encouraged us to live life basically looking over our shoulders and preparing for worst-case scenarios every time we went into a public place. I don't know about you, but I can't live like that. That's not even living, in my opinion. The presenting officer gave several examples from his own personal life that involved his wife and son, who have been encouraged to be constantly on alert for badness. How sad for them.
The bottom line is that sometimes people do horrific things. The reasons vary, but mental illness plays a large part in many of these tragic events. It's up to us as people, citizens, parents, children, brothers, sisters, co-workers, neighbors and humans to not ignore others when they are showing signs of mental instability. It may feel like none of your business, but if this person ends up doing something horrible, will that excuse assuage your guilt? I'm calling everyone who reads this to action: let's de-stigmatize mental illness and its treatment so that some tragedies can be prevented. I realize that this will not be a panacea for ASEs, but if even one crisis can be stopped before it has started, that will be a victory in my book.