May 28, 2014
RE: Keeping a balanced perspective on the tragic killings in Santa Barbara, California.
Much has been written over the past few days about another mass killing, this time in Santa Barbara, California. It is ironic and bitterly painful that at the heart the incident is a young Asian American male. It is ironic because this occurred at the end of Asian Pacific Heritage Month which is dedicated to celebrating the richness of Asian Pacific American heritages and cultures. It is bitterly painful because Elliot Rodger felt others “thought less of me because I was half-Asian………I was feeling different because I am of mixed race…….which made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.” It is doubly ironic because May is also national Mental Health Awareness month yet mental health remains a topic that is still difficult to discuss in many communities.
On May 8th, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus hosted a community roundtable in Washington DC to listen to the mental health concerns of AANHPI community members, to hear what type of legislation and policies are important to improving the overall mental health and wellbeing of AANHPIs. The next day the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islander, WHIAAPI and the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, hosted an all day meeting with consumers, policy makers, providers and administrators on ways to improve the quality of care for AANHPIs, including redefining what mental health means for diverse populations.
A challenge in writing an article like this is to present a balanced perspective. One that acknowledges that being bi-racial did influence Elliot Rodger’s sense of self worth without making this an article on being Asian American or bi-racial. It raises issues around mental health but caution must be made to not see this as further proof that individuals with mental health problems are violent and the simple answer to gun control is to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health problems. We may never know the whole story but clearly there are complex issues that need to be addressed.
Watching the videos of Rodger are chilling but it is important to get beyond our attempts to understand his need for retribution and assess what brought him to this point. It is dangerous to play armchair therapist about someone we know about only through the media but his commentary on racism, anger towards women, resentment for not being wealthy, being bullied and feeling isolated raise critical issues that we as a society need to discuss. Mass killings shine a spotlight on the problems for a few days and weeks then fade away until the next sensational story makes the headlines and evening news. The real tragedy, however, is what goes unnoticed by the public on a day to day basis. It is the emotional and/or physical scars of the person who does not act out but keeps the pain hidden inside. It is about the violence perpetrated on another, one person at a time. It is about what happens to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, to African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, to women, LGBT communities and immigrants. It is about bullying and being bullied, of surviving traumatic events and looking for answers to what gives meaning to our lives.
Another challenge is finding ways can all become involved. Experts cannot predict with any certainty who will become violent but they do know the factors that increase the likelihood of preventing violence. We know that having stable relationships and support, being valued and having opportunities to feel competent are all essential factors in leading healthy lives. The problem with focusing on mental health is placing the emphasis on the problems, of seeing it in terms of pathology or a diagnosis. Mental health is also about creating healthy environments, of focusing on a person’s strength. It is finding ways to engage with each other, of eradicating our own biases around racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and anti-immigrant sentiments.
July is Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness month. At the end of July and beginning of August, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, NAAPIMHA will host a national three day summit on the University of Colorado, Boulder campus. The intent is to develop leadership among Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander college students. It will build on their Friends DO Make A Difference campaign to help student leaders raise awareness around mental health among AANHPIs on their respective campus. Congressman Mike Honda, 17th Congressional District of California, founded the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus “a bipartisan Caucus comprised of 58 Members of Congress committed to the belief that all communities deserve a safe environment to thrive, and our nation is in urgent need of solutions that eradicate bullying offline and online”. President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force” to build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color”. These are but a few of the ways you can get involved. NAAPIMHA is also pleased to work alongside fellow members of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of twenty nine national organizations who continue to address the many issues facing AANHPI communities from health, mental health, substance use, civil rights, housing, economic development, immigration, education, women’s issues, LGBT issues and a host of other concerns. Mental health impacts each of these topics and in turn is influenced by these issues. For further information go to www.naapimha.org; honda.house/gov/cabc; www.samhsa.gov; www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper; www.whitehouse.gov/aapi; and ncapaonline.org.
DJ Ida, PhD