"Be nice to everyone, you don't know what they might be going through." Is being nice optional when someone is not necessarily showing it to you? That sounds like what a lot of Parkland students are parroting in the wake of the shooting at MSD high school this past Valentine's Day. We always encourage students, and others to be there to listen and communicate with those who might need it. I am a trained volunteer at CrisisText Line, and everyone constantly repeats how important it is for suicidal and homicidal people to be heard because they often feel alone.

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Why are we generalizing?

We would never ostracize or bully a student who was making a scene due to symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, Autism, or anything of the like because we are informed on the symptoms and side effects linked to these mental health conditions. That is why we have the resources and education to inform people about the severity of the symptoms. These mental illnesses are measured on a spectrum because they are variable from person to person.

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There is no defined set of symptoms for each mental illness because each person experiences them to a different degree, at varying amounts, and with different triggers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to suicidal people, and we shouldn't try to label and box in the shooter for his homicidal episode. So why should the spectrum of diagnosis be removed for Nikolas Cruz?

Why are we treating the MSD shooter differently?

We know what happened, and it is too late to change the past.

How can we be content with ourselves when Cruz's peers are justifying the fact that they ostracized and bullied him for years because they were terrified of him? How can we condone this mistreatment, and discredit our own thoughts simply because we didn't know him? He had a severe mental illness, just like 25 percent of people in this country do, approximately 45 percent of them remaining untreated, and an unaccounted statistic with those who haven't been or aren't diagnosed.

Instead of focusing on the set-in-stone past, and playing a bloody blame game, students and Parkland citizens alike should be focused on the reform of their schools. In addition to neighboring schools, and enlightening each other on the damage that bullying can cause.

I am not here to say that I justify the shooting in any way, shape, or form, however, due to the popularity and trending videos stemming from his peers and his school district I am ashamed of the message they are conveying.

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I read articles saying that a bunch of the students were afraid of Cruz due to his aggressive behavior towards other students. That is a common behavior in certain mental health conditions and syndromes. I am confident that if you look up symptoms of mental health conditions, you will find that not all, but a lot of them include aggressive or physical behavior issues. I read up on a mental health study from the National Institute of Health, and it reports that four percent of outpatient mental health patients in an urban setting show a reported history of homicide attempts.

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They also did say that "[m]ost patients with stable mental illness do not present an increased risk of violence," (Rueve 1). This shows that although mental health does not necessarily increase your risk of becoming homicidal, there is a small percentage found to have repetitive homicidal behavior.

This is a sad but unfortunate truth that mental health facilities did not find him suitable for hospitalization. Maybe if they had looked a little deeper, they could have seen the troubled boy underneath the orange jumpsuit.

Every crisis is a crisis

We also do not define what a crisis is. We believe that when texters use our short code and text in, whatever problem they are going through, no matter how severe or mundane, they are to be given the same 5 step process as taught in training. This taught me volumes. Every issue that someone is going through is valid and deserves to be heard without any indication of judgment, doubt, or disbelief. Just because someone isn't necessarily kind to you, or displays behaviors that are denotated as bad, does not mean that their issues or concerns are any less valid.

So why is society, attacking Cruz for problems that he was battling on his own? Of course, not everyone is going to understand the rationale behind killing seventeen people from his high school, but we all deal with our problems differently, and we all have our own unique set of problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms to absolve ourselves of our own day to day demons and battles.

He doesn't deserve to be boxed in

Everyone knows how harmful and damaging labels can be. It is challenging to be plastered with the stigmas around derogatory name-calling, racial slurs, and other hurtful phrases. At CrisisText Line, we are taught to be delicate and careful to use correct and precise terminology and listen to each person as they explain their situation to us. Just because a suicidal person doesn't show cutting scars or hasn't overdosed on pills already doesn't undermine the severity of what they are going through. Everyone is handled at the individual level, not boxed in with the label of a suicidal person. We should treat those who are homicidal the exact same way.

We would never say to a suicidal person, "Well why would you want to kill yourself?" So why would we ever tell a homicidal person, "Sure, I've been upset before, but I didn't shoot up my school." That is undermining what a person feels, and words can be extremely lethal and powerful. Especially today when we must walk on eggshells to efficiently communicate and deliver thoughts without hurting others' feelings because of how strongly things are worded, even more so in a political climate. Suicidal tendencies are always talked about and warned ubiquitously throughout schools, counseling offices, school email blasts, and yet homicidal tendencies are unheard of. No one gives these people a voice. I think that is why Cruz felt the way he did, and something must have triggered a sensor in his brain to act.

In closing

Those are my thoughts on the situation, and in closing, I wanted to leave you with a few brief messages: We cannot solve everyone's problems. On CrisisText Line, we give texters the tools and resources for them to cope with their problems, and even after a conversation, they may not necessarily feel better about their situation at all. Since we cannot perform magic, bring back the dead, or take back words that were spoken. We can, however, provide an open ear for listening to those that might need someone to talk to for 40 minutes. Let's stop the stigma of mental illness for not just suicide, but all mental health conditions, including homicide, Asperger’s, autism, and everyone in between and on the spectrum. Be kind to everyone and be a listening ear for those who might need it.

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