In light of the recent tragedy that shook the world on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, we all must ask ourselves what we can do to prevent such a terrible tragedy from happening again. No doubt, there’s a lot of perspectives and debate on how the event could have been preventable. But, ultimately it boils down to the single most important message, which is about the state of Mr Stephen Paddock’s mental health. Clearly, he was a man who struggled immensely with his mental health in order to drive him to do such a horrific and inconceivable act. Does this still make him accountable? Absolutely and without an ounce of doubt in my mind, he is indeed accountable.
Sadly, the families, friends and onlookers affected by the Vegas tragedy will grieve and heal for the rest of their shattered lives. Although we all try to make sense of such a violent and pointless act, there’s no escaping the fact that we all have a responsibility to reshape how we look at mental health.
It is still an uphill battle to destigmatize mental health, despite the progress made through the years. It’s difficult admitting to have a mental health issue. Men in particular have an even harder time to verbally express their struggles, partly because of the brutish and emotionally stoic figure they must live up to through centuries of stereotyping about what it takes to be a “real man.”
But as a man who’s struggled and overcome challenges with mental health issues, anger management and anxiety, I now realize I have a responsibility to openly talk about my past struggles. In doing so, it opens doorways for other men to share about theirs. A few weeks ago, I had a male family member reach out to me and say, “Jason…your openness has helped me realize my own mental health….I think I could have depression..” I invited him out to lunch a few days later and the two of us opened up to each other about our personal challenges without judgment. We even cried a bit during some of our deeper conversations.
Most recently, one of my buddies sent me a text with a great article about the Vegas shooting, titled “Thoughts on Vegas and Why Men Keep Doing This by Charlie Hoehn.” I read the article and was inspired by the content, but more importantly I was moved by my friend’s random text. You see, he and I never talk about mental health. Let me correct that. He has never started a conversation with me about mental health. It’s a subject matter that he has previously turned away from with discomfort whenever I brought it up. Thus, when he sent me the link to the article along with the text, “Jason, this is a great article on mental illness” I speculated that he might have even shared it with his wife, kids and maybe some of his other friends. In doing so, I realized what an impact I may have had on him by trying to encourage him to talk about mental health from time to time.
The point I’m making is that when we begin to open up about our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we invite others to do the same. Imagine if we all did that, all of a sudden, seeking help from a therapist, calling a suicide hotline, going to anger management or talking about your struggles with your family members becomes so much easier. I truly believe that these mass shootings and senseless acts of violence would be greatly reduced simply because these men will have a better chance at a healthier life.
Men must overcome the hurdle of machoism and learn to embrace and empower ourselves to make full use of all our emotions that was given to us the day we were born. To cry when we’re hurt, to appreciate when we feel gratitude, to be compassionate when we’re depressed, to console when we feel sorrow or to laugh when we’re being silly – all strong characteristics of a true man.
As for me, I’ll continue to do my part in raising mental health awareness. My book, Living with the Dragon – Healing 15 000 days of Abuse and Shame is now officially published and in it, I openly share with you my personal stories struggling with anger, abuse, depression and anxiety. In the end, I’d like to bring hope to the mental health community, especially to men. I’d like men to know that they’re not alone with their struggles and that I too failed many times with my lack of self-awareness. However, I’d like to remind men out there that there’s no shame in finding help. Thanks to the many support groups and therapists I’ve worked with through the years, I now have a clearer understanding and acceptance of myself and for that I am extremely grateful.
As a result: For every purchase of my book until the end of November 2017, partial proceeds will go to the Movember Foundation to help promote mental health awareness in men and to do my part in reducing stigma. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.
To the family members and friends of the Vegas Shooting, my heart extends out to you all. And to the rest of the world, let’s do our part to end these inconceivable acts of violence by tackling the source of the problem which is dealing with our mental health as individuals and as a community.