Content Warning: Violence
I live in Highland Park, Illinois. The name of my town might ring a bell to you. I would hope this is because of its thriving Jewish community, cameos in John Hughes movies or close proximity to Chicago. But, unfortunately, you likely recognize the name because it was recently a national news headline. On the Fourth of July, there was a mass shooting in Highland Park that tragically killed seven people and wounded over thirty.
While dozens of people were rushed to the hospital for gun wounds, hundreds arrived at Highland Park High School for free counseling. Mental health services were provided by the community, state, and United States government. As I walked down the streets of the once quiet and uneventful Highland Park business district (fondly referred to as downtown or uptown Highland Park), I saw memorials, candles, flowers and therapy dogs. Surrounding the therapy dogs were people of all ages. Highland Park’s youngest community and oldest community members were gathered together to seek comfort from these soothing dogs right out in the open.
As I scrolled through Facebook I read long and detailed posts from various people who received counseling support from the services at the high school. Some of these people were at the site of the shooting, but not everyone. Still, they were all able to recognize that they needed help; services were readily available and easily accessible to them.
Synagogues instituted support groups; camps had multiple social workers in attendance for the days immediately following the shooting. Terms like “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” were talked about openly. I saw adults that I have never seen cry before break down openly and in public. My community was able to collectively recognize that no matter where we were on July fourth we were all traumatized, hurting, and feeling deep, raw emotions.
The way my community mobilized mental health resources after this tragedy was incredible. Highland Park will be permanently scarred from this event, and people will always need extra support due to the horrific memory of this day. But this event also showed me a world in which mental health is radically destigmatized; where resources are broadcast on the news, are fully encouraged to be utilized and are 100% accessible.
What if we lived in a world where we did not need a tragedy for this to be true? What if this was the norm? This horrific event proved that it is possible to make resources widely available and that it is possible to speak openly about mental health. There are many important things that can be learned from this tragedy. I want to highlight that it is okay to ask for help and that we should continue to expand the support that was given to my community. Mental health services should be accessible with no shame or stigma attached. If people are given the opportunity, they will seek help. We just need to push to put the systems in place to make this a possibility. I have seen it in action. It is possible.