This story was originally published February 10, 2013. 

The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was diagnosed with severe social anxiety disorder as a teenager. In Aurora, Colo., the defense attorney for the accused shooter James Eagen Holmes, called Holmes mentally ill.

Adam Lanza, the shooter in Newtown, Conn., was automatically labeled with a mental disorder. Although he was thought to have had Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder without an association to violence, we will never know just what drove Lanza to commit one of the deadliest shootings in America’s history.

Mental illness, however, does not equal violence. Mental illness does not equal crazy. Mental illness, for that matter, does not equal anything in particular. People are people — uniquely themselves. Regardless of a medical diagnosis, this stands true. The recent tragedy in Newtown is an opportunity to get that straight.

Mental illness is not some abstract, unlikely disease that only pertains to school shooters.
Like physical diseases such as diabetes or arthritis, mental illness is a daily reality for many people. Anorexia nervosa could affect your daughter. Post-traumatic stress disorder, your grandpa. A different mental illness may affect your next-door neighbor, your spouse or your brother.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one out of every four adults, about 57.7 million Americans, experiences a mental health disorder in any given year. This includes, but is not limited to, major depression, schizophrenia, bulimia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder.

Mental illness is not something to be afraid of.

Mental Health America has found that an estimated 2.5 million Americans journey with bipolar disorder. The actual number, however, could be two to three times higher; as many as 80 percent of people with this disorder go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. As a 22-year-old woman with bipolar disorder, I ask you not to judge me by what little information you know about bipolar disorder from movies or extreme cases in the news. I am my own person.

When friends first find out I live with bipolar disorder, they are usually surprised. They know me as a junior English writing major at Goshen College who loves poetry, painting, traveling, music and photography. I am a Christian and am passionate about worshipping God. I am a daughter, big sister, niece, cousin and granddaughter.

The public does not see mental illness for what it is. Four years ago, after my own diagnosis, I remember feeling disgraced and automatically rejected by society — misunderstood without a chance to defend myself.

If a person is diagnosed with a physical, life-threatening, chronic illness — such as cancer — it is normal and even expected for that person to receive sympathies, hugs, prayers and get-better-soon Hallmark cards. But, when a person faces a mental illness diagnosis, shame and revulsion are common. The amount of stigma that still surrounds mental illness today both shocks and saddens me.

The United States’ fiscal approach to mental health care is tragic as well. A lack of funding is taking many Americans in need of care and setting them up for struggle. According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, states have cut at least $4.35 billion from public mental health care funding from 2009 to 2012. In 2012 alone, 31 states reporting to the association documented cutting more than $840 million. The cost of medication is scraping the sky, psychiatric beds are disappearing and community support services are being depleted. As many as 45 percent of homeless people have a mental illness.

Our mentally ill are being neglected, rejected, forgotten.

A person is not a diagnosis, but a human being. It’s time to treat one another that way.

President Barack Obama himself made the mental health connection at his first news conference after the Newtown shooting, saying: “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun.”

Yes, Mr. President. Yes, we are.

Annabeth Tucker is a junior at Goshen College.

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Should the nation create a mental illness registry for purposes of gun background checks?

No, we don't even have a definition for mental illness and likely never will.
- Jamal Koga
There is doctor/patient confidentiality, but a psychologist is already required to break confidentiality if they believe their patient poses an immediate threat to themselves or others. In that particular case, I think a firearms watch list would make sense.
- James Korn

How much emphasis do you think better mental health treatment should receive in the effort to reduce gun violence? What should we do to improve treatment?

Major effort needs to be on mental health and not providing individuals with these issues with access to guns. Legal gun ownership, regardless of type of firearm or number of rounds, is not the issue.
- Stephen Martínek
I think (President Barack) Obama has a good plan with having medical professionals report people they perceive to be a threat.
- Ted Miller
I am a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Everything Lisa Anderson said (in the Feb. 3 Tribune) is true and I also believe the laws on getting treatment for someone need desparately to be changed.
- Kris Monagle

Should gun buyers be required to pass a mental health screening?
No, the truth is the people in power will abuse the system. … They would use these tests as a way to limit a regular person, who doesn't agree with the government, from obtaining a firearm. Look at history, every single socialist when in power has disarmed their populace so that they can then do whatever they want to do.
- Daniel Reffo
Yes, and in return for the additional hoop, (those who pass should) be allowed to purchase fully automatic rifles.
- Rick Crosley
Who gets to make that final call on what mental is?
- John Dorsch
If all prospective gun owners were tested this way at least it would eliminate potential threats. In the same way we don't allow these people to work with our children, so we should prevent those with a history of mental instability from possessing the means to harm them.
- Jerry Gilder