Many of the details from the massacre at the SunTrust bank branch in Florida are tragically familiar. Among them, the accused shooter’s ex-girlfriend was desperately trying to alert people that the man now in custody was potentially dangerous.
“For some reason [he] always hated people and wanted everybody to die,” she told an Indiana-based TV station . “Every single person I’ve told has not taken it seriously and it’s very unfortunate that it had to come to this.”
In the thirty years I’ve spent providing legal counsel to families with loved ones afflicted by mental illness I’ve noticed it is almost always a woman who calls our office when grave concerns arise concerning a family member. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is, but with more caretaking responsibilities (even in 2019!) it’s not completely surprising that women are paying closer attention to personality changes, worrisome symptoms and general warning signs that could indicate a loved one is on the brink of a mental health crisis.
Hate Is Not a Mental Illness
It’s also not surprising that this particular woman – the accused shooter’s ex-girlfriend – wasn’t taken seriously when she tried to alert others to the danger this man posed.
To be a woman in our society is to regularly experience what it’s like to have your expertise, judgement and instincts all disregarded. Just one example of this phenomenon is the extensive evidence that shows women have long received less medical treatment for pain and are far more likely to be misdiagnosed by physicians who don’t pay adequate attention to women’s symptoms, maladies and complaints.
Another example is the #MeToo movement: the reckoning spurred by mostly female victims of sexual harassment and assault who have long gone ignored and/or unbelieved. Hence the mantra of the movement: “Believe the Women.”
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Preventing mass shootings requires much of our society: early intervention and proactive measures concerning those with mental illness in both schools and workplaces; a better understanding of legal options available to authoritative figures when red flags surface; more funding for mental health programs, especially community-based housing options; and an easing of state and federal privacy laws that keep families from participating in treatment and discharge plans and processes.
Many of these steps are difficult to achieve. What’s not difficult is simply believing the women who are brave enough to step forward and urge warnings when they suspect a loved one, colleague, student, etc. might pose a danger to himself or others.
While there are limitations to the results reported – including a relatively low response rate to the survey (23-29% in recent years), a lack of quality measures of mental health treatment, a reliance on simple measures of stigma, and the absence of items regarding anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD – this is an impressive survey study.
Believing women would urge more women to speak out, and women today seem to be those most able to recognize mental health problems and most willing to act.
Women are the keepers of incredible knowledge and wisdom in our society. They work, run households, raise children, volunteer time, set budgets, allocate spending, pay bills – sometimes all at once. They’re champion multitaskers because they have to be. They perform the tasks that would otherwise go undone. They sift through the clutter. They notice the details. They pick their battles. And when there’s a threat facing their families, they fight harder than anyone.
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Why would anyone disregard a woman with even the slightest inkling that someone she knew needed help? Who would know better than her?
To prevent mass shootings, we can start by believing the women.