We need to take care of our people.


Creative Commons License Benjamin Chun via Compfight

This past summer some of my drama students and I took part in an active shooter scenario training. Some students played the role of those who were terrorized by a gunman but survived with no physical harm. Other students played the roles of those who were injured or–even more horrifically–dead, complete with realistic wounds applied by moulage make-up artists. I played the role of a teacher who went into cardiac arrest after witnessing one of my students being shot to death. Other teachers and school employees took on the roles of classroom teachers and office personnel in the given situation. Administrators were also present to essentially play themselves in the scenario.

There are some feelings that arose during the training that I will never be able to properly articulate. There are thing about the training that I won’t share in fear of someone reading about it and using what I learned to their advantage should that person “snap” and attempt to carry out a loathsome plan of his/her own. I haven’t written about it until now–not for lack of trying– because it was a very difficult experience–one that I’ve reflected upon daily since I participated in it–one that has changed the way I do business in my classroom–one that has inserted an element of fear into my everyday life, not just for me, but more so for my students and my own children. I know that statistics are in our favor for the likelihood of something like the tragedies our country has experienced happening to my loved ones or me, but the statistics are changing with every mass shooting. Even though the training was completely simulated, by the time the scenario ended, I felt like crying. I felt like I could have an actual heart attack. Some of the students who participated had real panic attacks and needed real medical attention. Afterward, I wanted to place a protective shield around every school in America–around every child in the world. It was too real, which was hard, but also good because it gave administrators, first-responders, EMTs and law enforcement the chance to practice in case something like this ever happened in our community.

Got that? We offered them an opportunity to practice in case this ever happens to us. In our community. We had to practice. Because it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us. It used to be rare. Yesterday’s college campus shooting in Oregon is one more reminder that it is becoming more common. In the Omaha area alone there have been two mass shootings of recent date–one at Von Maur department store at Westroads shopping mall, and one at my alma mater, Millard South High School. And now yesterday, and before that, Charleston, Fort Hood, Newtown,  Aurora, Oakland, Columbine … Sadly, I know I’m leaving many out.

The fact that we have to train for something so unthinkable demonstrates how serious this possibility is. The fact that something like this is a possibility–a very real possibility–terrifies me. The fact that I don’t want to describe what we did that day or how we did it in fear that some depraved individual will read it and be able to better plan an attack, speaks to the culture of fear Americans live in.

Of course I want you to go home and hug your babies. Of course I want you to be vigilant. Of course I want everyone in education to go through the training I went through. Of course it makes me sad that I want that. But what I really want to examine is why this happens. There are many theories–most of them quite controversial in nature, but I favor one theory. We don’t take care of ourselves or each other.

We tend to our physical ailments without giving it a second thought, but for some reason taking care of our people’s mental ailments is still a secretive, taboo practice. It’s still something we are ashamed of. This causes people to NOT seek the help they need. It causes people to NOT seek the help that their children need. Mental illness makes us ashamed of something we cannot control. We are so damned concerned about how others perceive us that we are not taking care of basic health or doing so in secret. Think about this: Why do we call it “mental health”? Why do we separate it out? Health is health. Our minds are part of our bodies, so, while the mind is a specialized area, it’s still contributes to the health of the whole person.

And, I’m not talking about slapping drugs on the problem either, though I realize there is a time and place for medication. I’m talking about making talk, cognitive, or behavior therapy available without the stigma. I’m talking about making it okay to talk about what ails us, both mentally and physically. When someone has diabetes or cancer, we get upset with them when they don’t take care of themselves. When someone reaches out for assistance because they hear voices, or can’t control their own moods, we slap them with an ugly label and ostracize them. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks help. Without a support system in place, it’s unlikely that a person will.

No matter what diagnosis any one of the shooters in any of the recent or past situations may or may not have received, I feel confident in my untrained opinion that they all have some sort of untreated OR mistreated condition–that if they had sought and received the help they needed somewhere along the way–sometime before they made the decision on the 360 degree wheel of decisions to attack unarmed individuals–there would’ve been a chance that they would’ve chosen another way to deal with their problems. Without help, there was no chance to avert these tragedies. I am not saying that these shooters are blameless–they ARE responsible for the depravity of their acts. I cannot even speak or write any of their names because I don’t want to glorify their actions. But, we need to get to the root of the problem. We cannot ignore it anymore. Let’s get over ourselves and admit it when we need help. When others need help, let’s make sure they get it. Let’s remove the shame attached to seeking help for legitimate, treatable problems.

It seems that we are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We need a refresh-reset for our society. There is no pat, simple answer for how to prevent this sort of tragedy. There is a web of interconnected problems in our society today. I do know one thing for certain though: We need to take care of our people.

3 thoughts on We need to take care of our people.

  1. Powerful words, Mrs. M. Powerful perspective, too.

    Last year at the state ITS festival, an Omaha school premiered a One Act written by (I believe) a Millard South staffer; it depicted what happened after a mass shooting and attempted to answer the tough questions of “why?” from the point of view of the victims in heaven.

    There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

    And despite the initial awkwardness of crying in front of my students — then crying with my students — I knew immediately that the shared experience and dialogue that followed built a new level of trust with and concern for each other. All those stigmatized “issues” that were once so taboo seemed secondary to the whole well being of each person. Our relationship grew so much deeper because we faced the awkwardness.

    As much as I hold the same fears as you, I have confidence and great hope that this is the generation that will help end the stigma around ALL health issues, be they mental, physical, emotional or social.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and helping perpetuate the notion that depression, anxiety, and every other mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

    1. I sure hope so, Blake. I think it’s important for people of our generation (now that I said that … I think we might be in adjacent generations … ) to start publically admitting the issues they face. I don’t mean everyone needs to air everything about everything, but there are so many people who DO seek treatment, but stay totally mum about it. If we can talk about it, we can do something about it, and we can support each other through the process. If we start talking, the children we are educating now might have a fighting chance to change the collective societal point of view on mental illness.

      I heard about that one-act. I hope I can see it or at the very least read it someday. For as intense as the simulation was, I still can’t even imagine how they must’ve felt.

  2. Thank you Jodie for posting this. My child participated in that simulated event and it shook her to the core. I would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that there are people standing by every day to help the community when they are in need. Lutheran Family Services has locations all over the metro area and Lincoln and they are staffed with a variety of people who have the skills to help. Their belief is that they are there to treat All of Gods children. You need not be of any particular faith or of any faith at all. They take those who have the ability to pay and those who do not. So if anyone reading this is struggling or you know someone who is, please call in the Bellevue area 402-292-9105 or in the Omaha area 402-342-7007 and they will put you in touch with someone who will help.


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