It is with a heavy heart that I ponder the media accounts of yet one more mass shooting in America. This one in Highland Park is different from Uvalde or Buffalo, however. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago. It happened in the familiar.

My father thought he was protecting his family by keeping us away from the Big City — Chicago. I went to St. Mary’s School in the area, and my brother was a lifeguard not that far away from where the shooter, Robert E. Crimo III, was captured. Generations of my family still live on the North Shore. My grandnephews were in their home just blocks away on the day of the massacre.

Crimo’s father sponsored his son’s application for an AR-15 rifle. But his son clearly had other complicating issues, as New York Times columnist David Brooks recently affirmed. Brooks referenced the assailant as “one who felt impotent all his life with guns providing a narcotic sense of power.” But in the complicated and understandably overwhelming discussions at the intersection of mental health, violence and power, one thing is sure; we can at least reinforce the compassion and care we need to give and receive in Washington. 

According to Jurgen Unutzer, head of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, “more than a half-million Washingtonians with mental-health problems don’t have access to care …” Truly, this isn’t just an issue for other people. As Unutzer states, “There is no family that hasn’t been affected by a brain health, mental health or addiction problem at some point in their lives.”

In a time that can seem bafflingly out of our control, we can have agency in at least one way, by improving Washington’s national state standing — we are ranked 46th — in providing adequate mental health care systems, according to the community-based nonprofit Mental Health America. We can do more, and each step has meaning:

  • Advocate for more mental health services by getting involved. Call your state legislator, write your congress member or senator, or join organizations such as the League of Women Voters.
  • Volunteer at nonprofits supporting mental health programs. Examples include the National Alliance On Mentlal Illness’ (NAMI) network of affiliates across Washington state. 
  • Contribute to nonprofits that work in mental health. Take a table at a benefit; write a check to a local nonprofit. 
  • Write your community leaders urging them to do their part to create more sensible gun laws.

Taking on the issue of mental illness and preventing another mass shooting is a high bar, but if everyone does their part, it is not insurmountable; our voices can be powerful. The New York Times recently published a letter to the editor, “Clergy’s Call for an Assault Weapons Ban.” It was signed by a rabbi and a reverend from Kingston, New York: “We call upon our neighbors and businesspeople who are financially benefiting from the sale of assault-style weapons to take the moral high ground and immediately stop those sales.”

I am confident that if Washington’s diverse leaders came together and made a similar declaration, it would be a significant beginning. 

If each of us took on one of these solutions, we could, indeed, make a difference. Maybe that difference will prevent another Highland Park shooting.