The tragedy of Ft.Hood at this point remains fresh in news coverage. I am concerned about possible repercussions that might come up later, specifically directed towards certain communities. Below is an email I received from the director of the program I'm interning at, she forwarded an email from the executive director of the National Asian Pacific Islander Mental Health Association which makes important comments about what to keep in mind when thinking about Maj. Hasan's experience within the military, such as his mental health (which is a conversationg that is for the most part disregarded in the media) and the importance of not jumping to any conclusions:
The shooting last week at Ft. Hood raises again the very painful reminder of what happens when mental health problems are not properly addressed. There are other issues that will also be raised including the apparent harrassment Maj. Hasan experienced as a Muslim and the failure of those within the system to understand the magnitude of his conflict in engaging in a war of Muslims on Muslims. If this proves to be true, this would not be the first time that prejudices in the miliary have taken a serious toll. We offer our support to Secretary Shinseki who will hopefully find ways to address mental health issues and the impact of racism and other forms of oppression in the military.
As mental health advocates, clinicians and those interested in improving the mental health of our communities, NAAPIMHA continues to be concerned with how mental health issues are dealt with. The shooting at Ft. Hood will also inevitably draw comparisons with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, how we look at both Maj Hasan and Seung Hui Cho and the impact this has on our communities. A particular challenge is making sure this is not seen as "something Muslims do" just as it was critical for the Korean and Asian American community to not own the responsibiltiy of what happened at Virginia Tech, nor was it something that happens when you "let foreigners in". That having been said, we also cannot ignore the important role that culture, race, language, religious beliefs, immigration status, etc. play in defining who we are, how we think, how we behave and how the world interacts with us. Sometimes we do not have the choice to not own the problem because others are quick to generalize and lay the responsibility and "blame" on our shoulders. When these issues are not understood and themselves become the source of conflict, they become important variables that must be addressed.
Tragedies like these also add to the stigma surrounding mental health - people with mental health problems are seen as dangerous, making it even more difficult for people to seek services. In the case of Maj. Hasan, he was trained as a psychiatrist and from what little information that is available, was apparently a good clinician. This only complicates the picture and asks that this situation be handled with sensitivity and respect. Where do those who counsel others receive counsel themselves? The VA, like so many other systems, is known for its lack of sufficient mental health providers to handle the heavy caseload. This is a common problem found throughout the service delivery system but becomes even more critical because of the intense nature of dealing with PTSD and other war related traumas. This is also not unlike the situation we see within our community based organizations where refugee mental health workers must work over time because no one else is there to relieve them.
My guess is Ft. Hood will remain in the public eye for some time to come as did Virginia Tech. Hopefully it will not have the media frenzy that plagued the campus and made students and community members wary to talk to anybody. It is interesting to note that the killings at the immigration center in upstate Binghamton, NY in April was in the news for only a brief few days even though 14 people were killed. One conclusion that may be drawn from this is that the loss of immigrants is not as important as college students or soldiers. We as a country have also become immune to the daily killings of one person at a time and only pay attention when there is a mass killing. That in many ways is the real tragedy. The experts agree that it is not possible to predict who will become a mass killer but we do know that prevention does work. Hopefully we will find ways to prevent violence in the future.
We will continue to work with others in the mental health field in the next few days, weeks and months ahead. There are lessons learned from previous tragedies and we welcome your thoughts, your concerns and recommendations.
DJ Ida, PhD
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
1215 19th St. Suite A
Denver, CO 80202