by Robert Kesten
Memorial Day started in upstate New York following the Civil War. Now it is a day off, with stores offering sales on everything from cars to kitchen appliances. Many of us will watch a parade, or attend a service, but the vast majority will think of it as another three-day vacation.
This Memorial Day comes just a few days since the last school shooting. It reminds me that veterans are more likely to commit suicide than average citizens and that it is far easier to gain access to a gun than services for mental health. Guns used for suicides far outnumber those used for mass shootings, but due to federal law, it is hard to find accurate statistics. Our young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, those from the Viet Nam War and those serving elsewhere around the world are killing themselves in record numbers, unable to get the services they need here at home.
LGBTQ youth commit suicide in numbers much greater than the general population, also able to access guns far more easily than help. The stigma of needing help in our country remains so strong and the ease of gaining access to fire arms so pervasive, that deaths rise as budget cuts eat away at an already fragile safety net.
Cutbacks are Making Services Harder and Harder to Get in New York
For those of us who live with a loved one with a mental illness (brain disease), it can be heartbreaking. Knowing your child may never reach their full potential, or live independently, or find a life-partner and happiness is difficult. Also very difficult is knowing the impossibilities of getting the services they need, and how much harder it will become as Congress cuts back and New York State remains stagnant as the Republicans in the State Senate hold up important legislation passed by the Assembly.
This callousness, this short sightedness by our elected officials, leaves more and more people looking for a way out, destroys lives and families, and leaves us as a nation a bit more ethically depleted. I have heard and read about families that break up over the stress of having a child with a mental illness. Coping with these brain diseases is totally consuming, as it is when a young soldier returns after enduring unimaginable hardships or injuries. We as a society must do more, must educate ourselves better, and must make the difficult decisions necessary to care for those who need it most.
This Memorial Day Weekend I will be thinking about those people, those who have taken their own lives because it was easier to get a gun then find help. I will be working to change that in New York, I hope you will join me in that effort.