By Kelly O'Horo, LPC
With headlines like, “Ex-TV Employee Kills Colleagues on Air” and “James Holmes Detailed Desire to Kill Many to Psychiatrist” in the www.nydailynews.com
recently, it is astounding to me that we, as a society, still are not actively bringing light to our mental health as a top priority. We have to do better for each other as humans. Mental health is everyone’s responsibility. People aren’t born with the desire to kill innocent people. Something happens between birth and these horrific incidents in the life span. It is time we start acting on our instincts when we come across others who don’t “seem right.” If someone displays anger, rage, or sadness that seems “too big,” it is important not to ignore it. It is not “someone else’s problem”; drastically unstable people are all of our problems, because unpredictable behavior — especially violent behavior — in many cases, could be prevented.
It is highly likely that a person who exhibits erratic (irrational) behavior on a consistent basis is struggling emotionally; thus, their actions may not be predictable. When we are emotionally triggered, our prefrontal cortex in our brain is not actively engaged. We as mammals, are not capable of being calm, reasonable, and rational when we are triggered. Our decision-making ability is usually poor at that time because our “threat response system” is telling our body to protect itself, and to defend or attack against the potentially dangerous perceived threat. The part of our brain that says, “Fight, flee, or freeze,” takes over to protect the person.
You might be asking yourself, how is being fired a threat to survival? How is it possible to see that as threat to survival that requires retaliation? How does being fired “warrant” murder in anyone’s eyes? The answer is really quite simple. We are tribal mammals. We are wired to connect, to thrive in groups, to survive together. Babies can die due to neglect. Not necessarily because these infants are not fed or clothed, but because no one holds them. No one attends to their cry because there is a shortage of caretakers. The baby instinctively knows that if they are not attended to, they have no chance of survival. They simply die due to improper attachment from their mother, or other primary caregiver. All behavior comes from unmet needs. Think back to the person who returns to their previous employer to retaliate; if his fear of survival was threatened, and whoever fired him is the “reason,” then he would feel justified in “fighting” for his life. He has literally been exiled from his tribe.
What makes some of us handle these kinds of stressors without ‘snapping,’ while others are not capable of adapting with more resilience? In the mental health field, we know that our genetic or epigenetic transfer of DNA and predisposition passed on to our offspring is part of adapting to the environment. Our current environment, or the environment in which we were raised, plays a significant role in resilience, as well.
Why does all of this matter to you? The answer is simple: you have a responsibility as a human being to help someone in need. You scan your environment. You observe people to determine if they appear safe, or if they seem like they might be unpredictable or dangerous based on their disposition. If you notice someone in your family, work place, store, or any other public place who may be struggling with mental health, you can help. If they are not actively a threat, but they appear to have consistent rage or angry outbursts, you can try to reach out to them. Ask them if they are going through something. Tell them that they do not have to navigate the stress alone. Give them a number to a crisis line. They can call a mobile crises team that can assist with the emotional volatility. If they are too irrational, and you believe their behavior could result in violence, call the police.
The bottom line is: emotionally unpredictable behavior is not “someone else’s problem.” If you know of someone who appears volatile, reach out to them! If you do not feel safe doing that, reach out to your boss or someone else in a decision-making position wherever you are, and let them know your concerns. You have the ability to help.
Some final thoughts and frequently asked questions about therapy and mental health in general.
What is the main job or role of a Psychologist (Counselor, Therapist, and Psychiatrist)?
We provide a safe, nonjudgmental environment where a person, couple, and family can go to learn about their current adaptations or patterns of behavior that don’t seem helpful to them; to process where those unwanted behaviors or emotions have come from, and to relearn more helpful ways to interact with self and others.
Isn’t therapy just for crazy people?
The stigma about therapy has to change. We do not wait until our mouth is full of cavities before we go to the dentist, so why do we wait until our lives are falling apart before we seek objective help? Our brain governs all of our systems in our bodies, and our emotions drive ALL of our behavior. We never did a single thing if we didn’t want something; yet for some reason, we only think we can see the function of our emotions when they are triggered in an unhelpful way. As humans, we tend to blame others for the way we feel. Everyone has emotions, and everyone gets triggered by things. If those threats being perceived are not real, the triggers can cause significant disruption in a person’s relationships. Historically, expressing emotions was perceived as “weakness.” This is where foolish phrases like “man up” or “pull up your boot straps” come from, and where the inaccurate information about vulnerability continues to be perpetuated. It is far braver to come to therapy and sift through your “baggage” than to avoid vulnerability and stick your head in the sand. Generally, patterns of “excessive” emotionality do not go away on their own.
How do I know when I should begin seeing a Psychologist (Counselor, Therapist, and Psychiatrist)?
A great way to determine if it is time to begin seeing a therapist is if you notice frequent disruption in relationships, occupational productivity, or protective feelings that persist past a given event. Feelings that tend to linger, causing too much distress, often need to be processed. Our bodies are brilliant at letting us know something isn’t ok. The first sign is through emotional distress. If we ignore emotional distress for too long, it will often create stress in the body that affects health in other ways, such as with gastrointestinal issues, chronic headaches, chronic pain, and other heart conditions.
Is therapy for children as well, and at what age are they able to start seeing someone?
Children are especially responsive to therapy, and can start as early as infancy (with EMDR Therapy), as the neuroplasticity in the brain is significantly less rigid than that of an older person. When we say things like “ridged older person,” we could literally be referring to inflexibility in the brain!
Is everything I say really confidential?
Therapy is a sacred space where everything that is said is confidential, with a few exceptions. If there is a danger to self, or danger to others, therapists are required by law to report — in order to protect the safety of the client or of a known violent act. Another exception is if the therapist is subpoenaed by a judge, or by the state’s licensing board.
I’m always stressed out. What do you recommend to reduce stress?
If you are always stressed out, chances are you are struggling with capacity. You are either taking on too many commitments, or are afraid to set healthy boundaries. In either case, there are some simple stress reduction techniques that can be done to settle the body down when it is activated by overwhelm. There are blogs, youtube videos, yoga, meditation, and articles all over social media to assist with stress. If you don’t want chronic stress to be a life-long issue, I think it would be a good idea to seek assistance from a therapist.
What would you say is the biggest misconception that most people have when it comes to seeing a Psychologist (Counselor, Therapist, and Psychiatrist)?
The biggest misconception of seeking help is that it is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. I tell my clients all the time that they are the true Heroes in their family. They are the ones willing to look in the mirror and figure out where they need to grow. That takes true courage! Vulnerability is only for the brave!
We should all be proud if we are willing to grow and change and unpack our bags. We’d all feel a lot lighter if we weren’t carrying around a bunch of crap we didn’t need anymore!
Infinite Healing and Wellness LLC, in Gilbert, is a collaborative counseling practice designed to serve children, families, teens, adults, couples, first responders, and military veterans. Practitioners provide comprehensive treatment to address various mental health care concerns. We provide an exceptional psychotherapy experience that allows our clients to reach their limitless potential, while recognizing that the strength that lies within is our most priceless attribute. We empower our clients with unconditional positive regard, and foster the process by providing a mental health retreat! Becoming one’s most optimal self is a luxury that every human deserves.
For more information, call 480-448-1076, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.infinitehealingandwellness.com.
Crisis Response Network
1-800-631-1314 and 602-222-9444
Treatment Advocacy Center
800-248-8336 (TEEN) or arizonateenhelp.com
Banner Behavioral Health (24 Hrs)
602-254-HELP (4357) or 1-800-254-4357
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