Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 07-01-2020
“You do not know what you would do in a situation you have not been in. So spare people the ‘well I would do this’ line if you have not walked a day in their shoes” -EaE
There is one thing I have admittedly been a bit fed up with, and that is being accused of ‘drinking the Kool aid’, or ‘believing everything I read’ along with the rest of the population. If only, if only… it was that simple. See, on the contrary of the average human being on this planet, my primary sources of information come from clients, not news channels or sources. Real people, real stories, real traumas from firsthand accounts. If I get a little passionate about protecting my fellow humans, there’s a valid reason for it. Therapists rarely have the luxury of living in denial about why people do the things they do, and why the world and humanity is what it is. We do not get a sugar-coated version of what is really happening in the world, nor a bias perspective from a third party. We not only help victims and survivors, but perpetrators of crimes. We hear it all, and unlike the rest of the world we do not get to judge it and penalize it, we must find a way to connect with it instead. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Mental health is never about finding excuses, or necessarily about finding someone else to blame, it is about finding reasons. Why do people do the things they do? To include committing some crimes. What are the biological, psychological, sociological and environmental factors that may contribute to a change in our moral codes? We must explore this, if we do not, who else will? If we as a population continue to stay uneducated on the biopsychosocial factors that contribute to a disruption of self or a ‘disruption of peace’, we only punish problems rather than fix them. We put band aids on stab wounds, we address symptoms vs exploring a root cause. Hence, we will continue to be ill informed and react in counterproductive ways.
It is from my observation that people’s moral codes are ever changing. With times, with situations and with added stress/ toxicity. A human that is in a stable environment for a long period of time with a good support system and good routine may find that their moral codes feel “set in stone” and never changing. However, if we add any extreme circumstance to a person’s life, we may start to see a change in their moral code. This includes but is not limited to:
- Loss of home/ Job
- Community violence/ war exposure
- Chronic poverty
- Trauma & extreme external triggers/ threats
- Underlying Mental health conditions
- Build up of chronic stress through external demands (work/ family/society etc.)
Crime is not always a direct reflection on character, but sometimes rather, a consequence of extenuating circumstances. Sometimes it is about how far a person is willing to go to stay alive and/ or keep their families fed. Sometimes it’s chronic pain and suffering combined with an extreme lack of a support system and resources. We can punish the behaviors that come from a painful root cause, and we often do. Or, we can search for a more effective intervention such as social services, emotional support, social policy changes and mental health interventions.
Unfortunately, I have grown to see that America as a society and as individuals are rarely focused on proactive and preventative measures. Rather we are a crisis response country. Meaning when the crisis finally hits, then we react in haste. Not before the crisis when there were warning signs, not even when seeing another group suffer, rather we only tend to react when it is a crisis for us. We as individuals and a society often allow things to fester and allow things to be covered up under the guise that we are ‘quite normal’ and ‘doing okay’. We are not okay, we are not normal, there is no normal so why pretend to be anyways? Sometimes it is hard for us to understand and accept an ill mind, ill family, ill community or an ill country. They exist, often in denial because a chaotic/ chronically stressful life as a norm… feels like… well, the norm.
We criminalize some people that truly deserve it, but unfortunately, we quite often criminalize good people who had strong morals. However, they may have fallen victim to chaotic situations with limited options. Mental health and healing can also work in reverse. We can consistently treat the underlying issue’s and restore the individuals and then in turn, the society. Stable people with quality lives tend to get restored in morals and behaviors. Protecting and treating our ‘victims of unfortunate circumstances’ and/ or oppression can create an enormous impact on community health. It can set a guideline on how quality we are as people, IF we all get to enjoy a quality life.