Toni Plante suicide prevention walk

Toni Plante, left, and her husband Al at a previous American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, only 22% of mass shooters are mentally ill. How is that possible? How can a person who is NOT mentally ill murder anyone (let alone perpetrate a mass shooting)? They certainly are not mentally healthy and so, by default, wouldn’t they be mentally ill?

I realize that mental illness is not the only cause of mass murders, but mental illness certainly plays a role in these horrifying actions. Maybe it’s true that the majority of these shooters haven’t been officially diagnosed with a mental illness, but a lack of diagnosis doesn’t mean there is no mental illness. There are too many unknowns in mental illness to absolve it of any connections to mass murder.

During my daughter’s mental illness and suicide, it became clear that there are many things mental health professionals do not know. My daughter had seen her psychiatrist two weeks prior to her suicide. She “passed” their mental health assessment with no problem. She was good at telling them what they wanted to hear. As others share similar stories, I realize that, while our mental health system is lacking, our mental health knowledge is lacking even more. We just don’t know enough to successfully treat. The “medication guessing game” is an example. A recent mass shooter had been prescribed eight different anti-depressants in a period of three months. Apparently when one didn’t work, they switched and gave him a different one. And these are not medications with light warning labels. Suicidal thoughts are top of the list but they prescribed them (and did not follow up on them) as if they were pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen.

I’m not saying that funding mental health research will alleviate our national mental health crisis, nor that closer medication watch is the answer, but I am saying that it can’t hurt. We have to start somewhere and any additional information we can get on human brain function will lead to treatment improvement. From the pulpit at my daughter’s funeral I said, “We need a blood test that determines mental illness. A blood sample that can be analyzed and a diagnosis made from that.” We cannot stop until this is the norm. And we have to start somewhere. And we have to start now.

When Ana died, I knew we had done everything we could to help her, and yet she still lost her struggle. Because of that, I knew that more research was needed to fight mental illness. I found that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) designates over 50% of the funds they raise to research. Since that time, my family, friends and I have donated to AFSP whenever possible, and every September we walk in the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Team Ana will walk again this year.

I hope you will consider donating to this organization that benefits mental illness of all kinds — whether providing help to calm the rage of a potential mass murderer, to provide treatment to those suffering from PTSD from one of those shootings or to help a person struggling. Give for Ana’s legacy. Give for survivors of mass shootings. Give for your neighbor’s kid whose anxiety exceeds their ability to go to school. Give for everyone who suffers. But please, give.

Toni Plante grew up in Wayzata. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband, Al, and their two dogs. Her remaining child, Leo, lives in NYC. She, her family and extended family all miss Ana terribly. Suicide prevention and mental health are her passion. She is not a therapist or a counselor. She is a parent who is committed to making a difference by sharing her experience.

This column is meant to offer insight and awareness, not advice. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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