Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne
A week had yet to pass in 2017, but America was already dealing with another mass shooting.
This time, suspect Esteban Santiago, a veteran of the Iraq war, boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale, landed, and began firing upon the crowd. Five people were killed, while many more are injured.
After analyzing video tape, interviewing hundreds of people who were in the airport at the time, and searching through his cell phone, police stated they have not found a motive.
“Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific act,” said George Piro, special agent in charge of the Miami office. “We have not identified any triggers that would’ve caused this attack.”
The problem is, Santiago himself identified the triggers back in November 2016. According to CNN, he went into FBI offices in Anchorage, AL to notify them of his shaky mental state, “…complaining that the Islamic State had gained control of his mind and was urging him to fight on its behalf.”
In this instance, Piro’s statement itself is part of the issue. How can we identify triggers if we do not talk about them? How do we stop potential disasters if we don’t communicate effectively?
Though the crime took place in Miami, it began in Anchorage. Santiago, like many other veterans of war, dealt with horrific side-effects. Unlike many who suffer from such symptoms, he had the presence of mind to seek help and warn people there was a problem.
The investigation should be about what happened between that point and January. What kind of care was Santiago receiving, if any, since he turned himself in? What kind of support did he have from Veterans Affairs? Who did he talk to, if anyone, about his problems?
The fact is, most people overlook triggers, stress points, and often physical pain, just to make it through the day–even those who haven’t experienced the hellish violence of war. 70 percent of Americans take some form of prescription drugs, most commonly for anxiety, depression, and pain (as well as diabetes and heart disease).
Like the shooting, it’s actually not difficult to identify the problem, but providing a real, long-term solution? That’s much tougher. It is easier to take a pill or to blame ISIS than to really dig deep, which calls for self reflection, dedication, and vulnerability.
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In short, it requires that we be proactive instead of reactive. It means we have to have the difficult conversation or the awkward encounter. We have to feel our pain, not numb it. We have to embody our emotions, not bury them.
If we come together and make mental wellbeing a part of our day, if we check in with one another, if we find common ground, we just might be preventing problems instead of mourning them.
In the long run, there can be great comfort in consistently facing the uncomfortable. In embracing the discomfort of unfamiliarity and vulnerability, we use difficult situations to grow, transform the mind and build resiliency. It’s time to take the long run.
For resources on mental health and how to help, check out Thrive NYC.