When Tolerance is a Bad Word

The horrific events that unfolded Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary school are leaving an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of people all over the world – 20 innocent children –  6 educators – and 1 young man –it’s almost incomprehensible. In just a few short moments, our world has been altered.   Certainly, over the course of the weekend, we have seen the outpouring of every human emotion as people try to come to grips with this tragedy.

President Obama echoes the thoughts of many when he said, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change.” Perhaps there will be some serious changes to the USA’s gun laws as result. Obama is certainly pushing in that direction. However, as many people are pointing out, this still begs the much more complex issue of mental health and the lack of available supports and treatment for those who are experiencing mental health concerns and /or serious mental illness.

We share this complexity with our southern neighbour. And it is time for change. It is beyond time. Mental health impacts us all. So does mental illness. Mental health supports need to be accessible – to everyone. And treatment for mental illness needs to be accessible – for everyone. We are each vulnerable and we each have unique and particular resiliencies that offer us strength and protection to cope with life’s sorrowful and traumatizing events.

This week, Commissioner Wally Oppal released his report into the Pickton inquiry. These Aboriginal women, who lost their lives so violently, were vulnerable for all kinds of reasons, most of which are connected to historical and ongoing colonization. Oppal discusses how racism contributed to Pickton’s freedom to keep killing. He also asserts that it was the system, mostly, that failed these Aboriginal women – and there will be no prosecutions arising from what is characterized as a blatant disregard for the lives of these women. It’s a travesty really, that our mental health care system is simply ineffective in supporting healing for many Aboriginal people –  among many many others. It’s also a travesty that we can keep blaming systems, rather than the individuals that run them. It’s really unconscionable that many people living with mental health conditions find themselves on the streets or incarcerated or contracting HIV or HCV or all of it.

As a person impacted by the intergenerational effects residential school, I attest to the resiliencies and survival strategies that we humans can adopt when living on the margins of health and mental health care. But is this really the best we can do?

I am done with tolerance. It’s time for change.

Acts of violence may not be completely preventable. However, it is clear from these two tragic stories, that we can be, and need to be, doing a whole lot better.


Questions or comments?  Please email: [email protected]

Carlene Dingwall (BA, M.Ed, PhD, ABD)

Mental Health, Substance Use and HIV/HCV Initiative