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The Dangers Behind “If You See Something, Say Something”

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of a heart-wrenching attempted homicide at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On March 3, 2006, a 22-year-old Tar Heel alumnus drove a rented Jeep into the campus Pit with the intent to end the lives of bystanders. An Iranian-American, his motive was rooted in vengeance for innocent lives lost in the Middle East at the hands of American soldiers.

While the tragedy was evident in victims’ injuries and heightened tensions on campus, its occurrence speaks to a larger issue that plagues the experiences of college students across the United States: the negative stigmas of mental instability.

Even just typing the words mental instability made me pause a little bit, but in reality, it’s not so cringe-worthy. Nor is it uncommon. Whether it’s suicidal thoughts or just plain nervous energy, 25 percent of adults experience mental instability in a given year.

And yet, we rarely talk about it.

As was quoted in the DTH article, the driver had been experiencing aggression and anxiety for a long time, not to mention social isolation. Regardless of his motives, he felt so socially removed from his community that he couldn’t communicate his feelings.

“[T]he biggest reason for his anger toward the American government and former President George W. Bush, he said, was the lack of social interaction he had. ‘Had I been socializing with people more, had people I cared about and loved, that would have prevented me from committing a crime like this.’”

What if he hadn’t felt isolated? What if he had someone to talk to, who helped him feel human? What if this stigma around mental instability didn’t exist?

Of course it’s scary and dangerous and threatening for people to have recurring thoughts about homicide and vengeance, but these ideas stem from very human emotions rooted in aggression and anger.

If we can’t talk about these emotions with our loved ones, what is the point of having relationships with them?

By ignoring the darkest parts of ourselves and others, we turn very common, human emotions into outliers, making them impossible to address.

Often times we hear the phrase, “if you see something, say something.” It’s an encouragement to be observant, to be vocal when someone looks suspicious. Whether it’s sneaky behavior at an airport, or a friend having an off-day, we are reminded to “say something.”

But this doesn’t work for emotions that live below the surface. It’s not always possible to tell when someone around you is about to rent a Jeep and drive it into the Pit.

People experiencing mental instability, no matter how extreme, often mask it through their interactions with others or choose not to interact at all. So how are we supposed to combat this?

Perhaps it’s time to graduate from “if you see something, say something,” and opt for, “if you feel something, say something.”

It’s okay to feel anxious, or aggressive, or depressed, or angry, but the real harm comes from harboring these feelings without asking for help.

If you feel something, say something.

Call your parents. Talk to a friend you can trust. Find a mentor. Visit campus health. College is one of the only times where counseling is free! Use it. Often. Getting advice now will help you explore strategies you can use for the rest of your life.

If you feel something, say something.

You might feel embarrassed, or hurt, or confused, but talking to someone can help you feel human.

If you feel something, say something.

It could save someone’s life, needless to say your own.

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