With the steady stream of deadly and vicious attacks that are happening across the country, many of us are asking, “What do we do?” This is the right question, and as with any heavily textured problem, there is no one easy answer. There are, however, a number of things you can do – some of them right now, today – to positively impact the current state of affairs in the world.
Know the laws. If you have a niche expertise, focus your attention on the laws that pertain to your knowledge base. For example, find out specifically what is legal and what isn’t when it comes to applying for different gun permits and owning different types of weapons. Know what is legally required of insurance companies and public health departments in terms of connecting those who are struggling with mental health symptoms. Notice the inconsistencies. Pay attention to reputable research that explores the consequences of our current legal structures. Share your findings.
Look beyond gun control. Even if you think the solution is to ban all weapons, especially semiautomatic weapons and devices that bolster the shooting power of legal weapons, the fact is that other methods of harm will continue to manifest as long as there are people who are deeply in crisis due to mental health disorders. The deeper issue here is lack of access to appropriate mental health services, a stigma or lack of understanding that minimizes healthcare coverage for preventative care, and the continued drive and focus of the federal government to cut funding that supports the organizations that are doing street-level work and putting resources directly into the hands of people and families in crisis.
Keep up with changing laws. Laws are continually up for revision and tag-a-long items to seemingly unrelated pieces of legislation can undo hard won rights in a backhanded way that is discouraging. Though these changes are often buried, they are not necessarily invisible, and you can keep up by connecting with the watchdog organizations you trust who are focused on legislative issues that are meaningful to you, and then following up on their information to form your own opinion of the facts they use to create their assessments.
Be a watchdog in your community. What happens to you, people in your family, and in your neighborhood is important. Share these personal stories. Let people know what is happening. There is strength in numbers and value in personal experience that can be translated into great change. Additionally, if you see something, say something – that is, if you notice anything that could indicate that someone is at risk of harming anyone, speak up and notify authorities.
Spread awareness. If you work in the medical or mental health industry, if you are at all involved in the process of managing applications for gun permits or gun sales, or if you have any personal knowledge of the inner workings of government organizations or health insurance companies and how they deal with – or don’t deal with – these issues, share that knowledge (anonymously, if necessary). If you find out about bills that are being voted on that will impact mental health treatment and/or other issues that impact our ability to keep people safe and connect those in crisis with the treatment they need, share that evidence-based information far and wide. NOTE: Make sure that the information you share is reliable, provable, and based on reputable research and evidence.
Lobby your legislators. Know who represents you and contact them with a brief and informed message about how you expect them to do their job on your behalf when it comes to votes and creating new legislation that supports the changes and services that are important to you.
Vote on the issues. It is not just the federal elections that require your attention. Every community vote that introduces new propositions can have a national impact. For example, what if one city or town voted to make mental health treatment a requirement for all who were arrested on assault charges of any kind? What if identified mental health and substance use disorders were identified and effectively treated in that process? What if rates of suicide, assault and homicide, drug overdose, and recidivism in general were reduced as a result? We would have the data we need to lobby for larger changes in the state and across the country.
Change the legislators who represent you. If your legislators are not doing what they are supposed to do to support the needs of the community, vote them out. Pay attention to their actual record of action while in office, how they voted on issues, and when they did and did not step up and create legislative changes in response to local needs, and vote accordingly. If they are not doing the job well, vote in someone who will or run for office yourself.
Share your resources. If you have time, money, or other resources and services to spare, share them with the organizations that are doing the work you support.
If you are a mental health professional or alternative health or preventative care provider, offer your services for donation-only at least one day per week. If you are a trained mental health professional, consider offering your services on a sliding scale or donation basis for those who do not have healthcare coverage or enough money to pay the copay. Accept all-comers knowing that when one person is calm, confident, and stable, they are in a position to help others who may be struggling.
Repeat. Do not allow yourself to get burned out. Do not let bitterness or hopelessness stop you from continuing to do your part. You are not expected to repair the whole world by yourself, but if you are disheartened, enraged, or saddened by recent events, you do not have the luxury of standing idly by and expecting others to manifest the change you want to see in the world.
Take care of yourself. Finally, and most importantly, practice self-care that will empower your own mental and physical health and wellness, giving you the energy and clarity you need to stay awake, aware, and persistent in the work that is necessary to create sustainable changes. If you are struggling with mental health symptoms and/or a substance use problem, connect with services that will help you to find balance in your life. Eat healthfully, quit smoking if you smoke, engage in sleep hygiene practices that provide you with nightly restorative sleep, spend time with positive people, disengage from toxic relationships and situations, and stay focused on all the amazing things you have in your life and all you have to share. You are necessary and needed, and an integral part of the solution if you choose to be.
How will you make a positive impact on the world around you in recovery?