msnbc   |  September 19, 2013

Mental health role in D.C. shooting

Investigators are looking into puzzling new clues surrounding the Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis. Mental health advocate Terrie Williams talks about the role mental illness may have played in the massacre.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> this morning we have new, but pilzing clues about navy yard shooter aaron alexis. after his mother said yesterday she has no idea why he killed 12 people, investigators say two cryptic messages were everyoned into the former navy reservist's sawed off shotgun. one said better off this way. my elf weapon. elf can mean extremely low frequency and that may be in reference to an imaginary microwave something he said when he was hearing voices and people were coming after hem.

>>> can laws help prevent the rash of mass shootings. let me bring in terry williams . thank you for being here.

>> glad to be here. alexis called rhode island police after hearing voices and people were following him with a microwave machine. he haven't to the va twice, but he said it was for insomnia. he never said he was fsz hearing voices and he didn't say he was going to hurt him or other people. was something missed here?

>> we go to work every day and we put on the mask and put on the face and act as if all is well. underneath that so many of us are dying inside and we don't pay enough attention to the mask that we see.

>> well, there are two bills and they're trying to legislate this and one is the mental health bill that would provide grants to mental health awareness training programs for groups like teachers, police officers , school administrators, veterans, nurses.

>> yes.

>> congressman ron barber has introduced a bill to help mental health providers provide electronic health systems . i want to play what he said about that.

>> the mental health first aid act provides training across the country to all of these first responders and others who might come into contact to give them a better understanding of mental illness and understanding what they're seeing and knowing how to get someone into treatment.

>> it sounds good. can it work?

>> it can work if, in fact, we pay attention . the reality is that you never know what a person is going through and we have to really work on destigmatizing mental health and mental illness . it is an illness just like anything else is. we consider it a weakness and we don't want to ask for help.

>> can you train people? can you train teachers? can you train first responders to see those signs?

>> you absolutely can and the sign is often the happiest person that you see and we don't know what his particular background was, how he was raised, what kinds of things might have wounded and scarred him that he never got help for because that's so many of us, but absolutely we need to train people and if you see something say something.

>> part of the problem is there still is this stigma, right?

>> when we heard from martin dempsey , he said those who served in the military should not be stigmatized from having to answer questions come they go through the security clearance and let me play what he had to say.

>> this particular individual, of course, wasn't a simple matter. i don't know what the investigation will determine, but he committed murder and i'm not sure that any particular question or lack of question on a security clearance would probably have revealed that.

>> or i suppose, even if they would answer that honestly and is there a balancing act between protecting people's privacy and also getting information that could be incredibly helpful.

>> we have to get the information. that's the reality. we have to get the information and we have to make it okay. i myself am someone who suffered from depression and got help for it, but what i know and it's especially harder for men because you are born, bred and raised to suck it up, to be a man and not show emotions of any kind. you can't ask for help. where do you go for that? but that's where we have to begin that everyone is dealing with something and that talking to a therapist is the gift that keeps on giving because you're dealing with some of the unresolved childhood wounds and scars and things that happen in the workplace that you don't think about, but that affect you very deeply. it's the hardest thing that we have to do, that we have to be more compassionate. we walk down the street and we don't look at people and we don't acknowledge them and people feel as if they don't matter and it's especially more difficult for men. especially dark-skinned, black men in this country who are oftentimes considered intimidating to other people. so i think we have to be more compassionate and when you walk down the street, look them in the eye, say hello and keep it moving.

>> we talk about in the wake of the shoot bgs this whole attitude and the programs need to change so we'll continue to follow this. teri williams. thank you so much for coming in.