A Doctor’s Take On Mental Illness, Gun Violence, and Hispanics

Following the tragic and deadly shooting that recently took place inside Ft. Lauderdale InternationalAirport, it became clear that the gunman, Esteban Santiago, was struggling with mental illness.

Early reports disclosed he was able to carry a gun even after voluntarily seeking mental help in Alaska. Clearly, public safety needs better laws governing gun ownership with respect to mental disorders. And, from my perspective, psychiatric clearance or restrictions to ownership should be essential to this process.

A Closer Look at the Gunman’s Mental Health

According to his family, Santiago was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving in Iraq and dealing with his father’s death. In addition, he claimed to experience auditory hallucinations. This is what people describe as hearing voices which can be a sign of mental conditions such as psychosis or schizophrenia.

Despite the Florida tragedy, it’s important to know that only a very small fraction of gun deaths and violence occur as a result of mental illness. My point here is the importance of recognizing the symptoms and seeking proper treatment, before it’s too late.

How Mental Health Care Disparities Hurt Us All

In Santiago’s case and for many other hispanics, the availability and reliability of mental health care is another challenge that leaves me with continued skepticism of the access and affordability for people in Latino communities who need help.

In my practice, I’ve treated Hispanics with roots in all corners of Latin America for more than 30 years. I find increased cases of untreated depression and anxiety pervasive amongst adolescents and adults who feel marginalized and disenfranchised by society because they have limited resources.

Shame is another factor, particularly in young Hispanic women who don’t talk about the unique family and cultural pressures they are going through. Substance abuse, low high school graduation rates, and gang violence are other factors that create an environment where mental disorders can begin and progress in many young Latinos.

Mental Health Nationwide

One in six Americans needs mental health care to treat common conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disease. Many others would benefit from mental wellness care where discussions with professionals as well as sound mental health practices including breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation may help prevent serious illness.

Often during my career, patients with seemingly common complaints like a stomach ache, headache, palpitations, sweats, backaches, or lack of energy are really suffering from what are called somatization of an underlying mental illness. Recognizing this is essential and could be another way the mental health community can save lives.

How You Can Help Someone With a Mental Illness

It is time to bring this mental health care crisis into the spotlight and finally provide programs and access to effective treatment for Americans. We have the resources, but they simply are not accessible to those who truly need help and can benefit.

If you or someone you know needs some help, here are some common symptoms and signs of mental illness to look out for:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Some sites I recommend to access mental health care information are psychiatry.org, apa.org, and nimh.nih.gov. It is up to all of us to help make our nation a safer place. Be well.

This blog post was written by Dr. Joseph Mosquera and copy edited by Arlene Borenstein-Zuluaga and Elara Mosquera

For any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email Elara@Saludmovil.com.