Not Another Article on Gun Control vs. Mental Health

This article isn’t about gun control or mental health reform.

Don’t get me wrong, these topics are vital for us to be discussing and we need to stand up for the policies and reform that we believe will protect our kids. If you’ve been on social media at all you realize that we as a nation strongly disagree about what those policies should be.  One fundamental issue in taking action to address this problem is that we get caught up in a back and forth debate that seems to go nowhere.  We’ve had more than 200 school shootings since Columbine and minimal changes in how we deal with guns and emotional health.

The problem of powerlessness

But again, this article isn’t about the policy debate.  It’s about the sense of powerlessness we are left with and how we challenge it.  The powerlessness I’m talking about is that disorientation that occurs in any trauma, when your sense of security and understanding of the world becomes destabilized.  This powerlessness brings us to a place of deep mourning, and also leads us to fits of rage as we try to fight against what has already happened.  It is this powerlessness that is often the culprit in our disassociation from the pain.  We go numb to the constant barrage of things we can’t deal with and feel that we can’t change.  So the debate on guns and mental illness goes in a circle and we hear political maneuvering and arguments about how this can’t fix that and we need that or this but nothing changes.  We go in this circle until it drastically intensifies until the only response seems to be to check out.  So the cycles of heated debates and overwhelming tragedies continue as does the heartbreaking reality that our kids are dying of gun violence.

Chicago knows the devastating effects of gun violence.  Ask any of the seasoned mentors Carpe Ventus work with and you will hear about the jarring communal trauma that occurs when youths or their family members fall victim to the violence.  Again we can be confronted with that same helpless powerlessness and the myriad of ways it impacts us.  We stand like deer in headlights as we struggle to pool our limited resources against the behemoth of problems facing our city.  The problem seems too big and we seem too small.

The question is: What can you do?

Don’t give up yet!  Instead of checking out, instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of these issues, let’s break it down.  Let’s table the policies and reform debates for the rest of this article and focus on the lowest common denominator in these scenarios: the children.  One thing we know from research is that a potent and effective way to help a young person on the path to a healthy life is to be in their life.  Contrary to popular belief, research has confirmed time and time again that what youth need the most in in their adolescent years are adults that care.

Carpe Ventus focuses its work with mentoring programs for several key reasons, the central one?  Mentoring works.  Think about the people that were there for you when you were younger.  Who guided and supported you?  Who helped expose you to activities and events that helped shape your life?  Who encouraged the odd and interesting things about you?  Who inspired you?  Who poured into your life?  We forget how powerful we are and the power being present for someone can be.  Do the people who inspired you as youth know how they changed your life?  Probably not, many of them were just doing their job or just being themselves.

So be that mentor that can change someone’s life

So what if we decided to invest more where we are at.  Call up your nieces and nephews and ask them how they are doing. Look out for the kids in your community groups, churches and neighborhoods and take the time encourage them.  Or take a risk and be like Katie Haycraft or Matt Josephs.  Katie and Matt, while working intense full-time jobs, sacrifice their Thursday nights to teach swimming to a group of kids through a partnership of By The Hand Club and Carpe Ventus.  They took something they both loved and decided to use that as an opportunity to invest in a group of youths in Chicago.  

So what if you don’t know any kids, or connecting kids isn’t your strong suit?  Then invest in the people and programs that are reaching out.  Touch base with your friends who are teachers, ask them if you can support them while they do the hard work of supporting their kids.  Get involved and support the hundreds of mentoring programs in Chicago.  If you don’t know where to start, reach out to us.  Carpe Ventus is committed to bring positive change in the lives of youths and our city.  It is easy to be overwhelmed because the problems feel so big, yet we need to remember the power we have to make change in small and meaningful ways.  

Mentoring is not the cure-all for this problem.  We want that one solution that will fix all violence for good.  I don’t think that exists.  What does exist: the solutions you can bring to the table; your unique talents, insights and your ability to relate to and care for the people around you.  Your ability to be a change agent in the world around you, just by your choice to step into relationships, to look for the hurting and to care.  It’s risky to step out and care.  And I hope you are filled with gratitude for the people who chose to step out and care for you.  For the parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, mentors and friends who invested in you.  Now you get the privilege of paying it forward.  It is a lie that this issue is too big.  Right now you can take one step to being the change our city and nation needs.

If the onslaught of conversation about reform is starting to shut you down, remember the power of relationship.  The love and care you can show to the youths around you has the power to save lives, to change the course of their future.  The support you give to teachers and community organizations equips them to continue their vital role in social change.  Remember that you are powerful and we are all big enough to make a difference.

Investing in the lives of youth may not solve the problem of gun violence but it can give us an active and effective way to be part of the solution.

Written by Dr. Sunitha Chandy, Psy.D.  | Artesian Collaborative

Dr. Chandy has experience working with diverse populations and has practiced psychology in California, New York and Illinois.  The Third Coast has stolen her heart and she loves being actively engaged in Chicago life.  She has worked in community mental health centers, hospitals, schools, head starts, women shelters and in private practice.   Learn more at www.artesiancollaborative.com