Precious Lives Lost in Lafayette, Louisiana

Two beautiful young women who had everything to live for were shot and killed in a movie theatre in Lafayette, LA on Thursday night, July 23rd.  News reports differ on whether it was seven or nine others wounded in the shooting.  The perpetrator was described as a “gunman [who] had a history of mental illness” in The New Orleans Advocate. He committed suicide after the shootings.

According to NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), 1 in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. 1 in 20 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In addition to the person directly experiencing a mental illness, family, friends and communities are also affected. These statistics are not in any way presented to minimize the tragedy in Lafayette, but to better understand the scope of mental illness.

I have bipolar disorder and am quite healthy as are many, many others under modern medications and therapy, and with the help of supportive friends, families and others, not to mention diet, exercise and everything else that all of us need to thrive.  Acceptance of one’s diagnosis and cooperation with professionals is important in reaching and sustaining a mind, body, spirit balance.

The tragedy in Lafayette, LA amplifies the conversation about mental illness and the general lack of mental health resources that exist for most individuals, their families and the community at large. Horrific news such as this can multiply the depression and magnify the stigma of others who have mental illness. Informed kindness to all – within the person who lives with mental illness and especially the friends and family who surround and support them – is important to fighting depression and internalized stigma.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (http://www.dbsalliance.org/) is an important resource for those who live with depression and bipolar disorder.  Many local support groups (about 300 nationally) provide peer sharing as well as helpful pamphlets and books. From time to time a speaker such as a psychiatrist or other relevant person makes a presentation or answers questions from a professional point of view. Additionally the above web site has a wealth of on-line information.

Thankfully, we are learning more and more about mental illnesses of all kinds, from therapy to medications to a basic understanding of the brain itself. During the course of my own bipolar disorder—from 1963 till the present—there have been enormous improvements in treatment. Friends and family are also of continuing importance.