By LAYLA ABDI

On Dec. 13th, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there was a shooting at Arapahoe High School in Colorado. While there isn’t a substantial amount of information on the suspect, many people who are often in the center of these random acts of violence have mental health problems. This isn’t just a gun control issue anymore. It now raises a pressing question about why these illnesses are so often hidden, and why those who need treatment aren’t getting it.

The sad truth is, the problem lies closer than Capitol Hill. For example, a high school in the area, W.T. Woodson, was plagued by three student deaths, two of which were ruled suicides just last year.

It doesn’t help that mental illnesses aren’t regarded with the same degree of importance as physical ones. They are something we are told to speak of with hushed tones. No one wants to be part of “that family” that has someone with a mental health issue.  To put it in closer perspective, as high school students, many jokes are made in regard to mental health disorders. Whether it’s an exclamation of, “Are you retarded?” after someone makes a less-than-stellar comment or putting off someone’s bad mood to them being bipolar, we are downgrading mental illness as something that is insignificant, and not worthy of serious discussion. No one would make those kinds of comments about physical ailments like cancer or even something as common as allergies because we are taught at a young age that those are very serious matters and something that is out of the person’s control. This leads me to the conclusion that society has a subconscious mindset that mental illness is something that can be controlled, which isn’t the case.

               This stigma that is echoed throughout the U.S. becomes a problem in many ways. Mental health issues are more widespread than assumed: one in four adults suffer from a mental health disorder, according to statistics taken from nimh.nih.gov. Despite this, many people do not receive treatment. According to the American Psychological Association, “Less than half of children with mental health problems get treatment, services, or support.”

Many think that the lack of funding is the main reason why the number of shootings has increased in recent years. That isn’t to say that nothing is being done to help fix these issues.  According to whitehouse.gov, Vice President Joe Biden announced on Dec. 10th that “$100 million will soon be available to increase access to mental health services and improve mental health facilities.” To add to this, the now in affect Obamacare makes treating mental health “essential.”

Locally, after State Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his son Gus, who later killed himself, reform seems to be in the near future. According to cbsnews.org, Governor Bob McDonnell has created a budget that would include a $38 million to improve mental health facilities in the state. Additionally, since Creigh Deeds has returned to work as a state senator, what happened to him is not far from his mind. Deeds has proposed two bills that would push mental health reform in Virginia, according to washingtonpost.com.

While any progress is wonderful, there is no guarantee that either bill will pass in the General Assembly, or that any effective changes will happen on a national scale. No one should have to wait until something happens close to them to decide that it’s time for changes to be made. However, I understand that as high school students, there isn’t much we can do. Most of us can’t even vote on who will make the decisions that affect us. Despite this, the first step is to change the conversation. Instead of making jokes about mental health, treat it like what it is, an illness. For an issue like this, increasing awareness is the best way to move forward and make a difference.