LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) — After horrific and violent events happen around the country, one of the first questions we ask is 'why?' Often times, the finger is pointed at mental illness. While that may be part of the answer, there's more that needs to go into the conversation.
That's according to Karen Newton who worked for 18 years at the University of Louisville as the director of Health Promotion Wellbeing Central. Now that she has retired, she serves as adjunct faculty, teaching a course called 'mindfulness and stress resilience.'
She said when she sees images or television reports of shootings, her brain fires off a "fear response."
"What has happened has been showing up in the news reports consistently and if a person has a diagnosis of some form of mental illness, that's fair reporting," Newton said. "But what it does to us listeners or observers is to become unnecessarily fearful."
Newton tries to teach people to think more about how they're internalizing what they're seeing or hearing, related to public shootings or other horrific events.
"One of the things that we need to do is to become really super savvy about how am I feeling and reacting to something that didn't happen to me? I'm not in danger."
She added that people can become more useful to themselves by trying to find compassion in the situation so that they don't waste energy worrying they might get hurt if they leave their home.
Newton encourages people to find what she calls a "creative response."
"Is there something that I can do within my immediate sphere to reduce the fear, anxiety and violence that we live with," Newton said. "It's not just about bouncing back. It's an acquired capacity to be flexible in how I think, feel and behave when life is really hard so I can bounce back and move forward."
Newton believes seeing more and more public shootings increases the stigma of mental illness.
"There are shooters and there are people with mental illness but there are all kinds of other really hard things that life gives us and they're all forms of suffering," she said. "How do we listen to each other? How do we listen non-judgmentally in such a way that I learn and understand you as opposed to judge you and think you're out to get me."
She wants to encourage people to also have the conversation about the acts of violence happening in the world that are not committed by people with mental illness. On the reverse side, she wants people to remember not all people with mental illness are violent.