Mental Illness: Know the signs, seek help

I’m sick of seeing people use mass shootings as an opportunity for a political debate. Every time there’s a mass shooting, everybody gets up on a soapbox and starts screaming about gun control. If you support the right to own a firearm, you’re a heartless monster. If you support gun control, you’re stupid and you hate America. All this yelling back and forth changes nothing — if some madman wants to go on a killing spree, he can go down to Costco, buy a bag of fertilizer, and build a makeshift bomb. We need to look for the root of the problem so we can stop something like this from happening again.

The first question is, why would anybody do something like this? It’s difficult to predict the behavior of a mass shooter because they are so rare. According to a 2001 study titled “Offender and Offense Characteristics of a Nonrandom Sample of Adolescent Mass Murderers”, some common traits are a history of depression and antisocial behavior. More importantly, there is usually a life-shattering event that causes these individuals to crack. Most killers fall into three distinct types: “the family annihilator, the classroom avenger, and the criminal opportunist.” Nikolas Cruz, the Floridian school shooter who ran amok on Valentine’s Day, is the second type.

Cruz was an extremely hateful person. When you see how he talked to his closest friends, it’s easy to see why he wasn’t very popular at school. In the time leading up to the shooting, Cruz expressed racist and homophobic attitudes in an Instagram group chat. His friends thought it was all in good fun when he said, “Shoot them [gay people] in the back of the head.” They thought Cruz was just making some edgy jokes, even when he wrote, “I think I’m going to kill people.” He gloated about killing small animals, and even posted a picture of a disemboweled frog publicly on Instagram. You’d think something so sick would set off an alarm, but people just thought he was weird. One of the people on the group chat said Cruz “seemed nice but also had some mental issues.”

Cruz was an orphan adopted by Roger and Lynda Cruz, an affluent family. Roger died in 2004, leaving Lynda to take care of Nikolas and his brother Zachary until she died of pneumonia last November. In some of his online rants, Cruz would spit on the memory of his birth parents. “My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her,” he wrote. His parents left him $800,000 in a trust fund he would’ve had access to when he turned 22 years old. The money will now be used to pay his legal fees.

While Cruz was diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and autism, this kind of behavior is not typical for people suffering with mental problems. We shouldn’t throw everybody suffering from these disorders into the same lot as one evil son-of-a-gun. A study from the National Center for Health Statistics shows less than 5 percent of all gun-related deaths in the last decade were perpetrated by people diagnosed with a mental illness. Most people suffering with mental disorders are not dangerous, so if somebody you know has these issues, don’t be afraid or cut them off. However, if your friend shows signs of antisocial behavior such as self-harming or harming animals, it is vital that you get them help.

The problem is that getting treatment for mental health issues can be very difficult in the U.S. Many people who struggle with mental illnesses are undiagnosed. In 2016, Cruz was sent to the Henderson Behavioral Health mental institution for an emergency evaluation. This was after a Snapchat video of Cruz surfaced in which he cut his arms and said he was going to buy a gun. The evaluation determined he was stable and Cruz was sent home. If he had been hospitalized that day, would we be talking about him today?

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s estimated that about about 6 percent of adults aged 18 to 25 are suffering from severe mental illness in the U.S. Of those, only about 52 percent are regularly receiving treatment.

“They just don’t want to do it,” Georgia State freshman Cortez Beato said.

Cortez suffers from bipolar disorder, and he has first-hand experiences with the struggle to find good treatment. Back in 2016, Cortez put a loaded gun to his head to commit suicide. His mom intervened and took him to Peachford Behavioral Health. He describes the experience as helpful.

“You’re allocating a lot of hours in your day to solely that,” Cortez said. “It’s going to change something. There were interesting people there and some good professionals who helped me. I just couldn’t do it very long cause it was expensive.”

Two weeks of in-patient treatment at Peachford is $5,850 out of pocket. With insurance, it varies. Many insurance companies don’t cover it at all, but the ones that do typically cover up to 40 percent of the cost.

Prior to his hospitalization, Cortez saw a psychologist who prescribed his medication.

“It wasn’t hard to get an appointment, it was just really expensive, like $500 for the first meeting, then $100 a session after that,” Cortez Beato said.

“I wanted a therapist too. I just wanted somebody I could talk to, but it was too expensive.”

The costs are ultimately why Cortez discontinued treatment. After that, Cortez’s condition got progressively worse. “It definitely affected me because I went to prison. Also, my dad had it and he killed himself. That’s one of the main reasons they said I had it,” he said.

Today, Cortez said he wishes he was able to stay in treatment. “Yeah treatment’s definitely a good thing,” he said. “It made me more aware of it [bipolar disorder], and I could try to change my behavior.”

Georgia State offers counseling and mental health services to students on campus, something that Cortez was happy to hear and said he was so far unaware of.