What Antoinette Tuff Can Teach Us About Mental Health

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Like much of America, I was captivated in hearing the 911 call emanating from Decatur, Georgia, placed by a school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff to police dispatch as she talked down a potential catastrophic mass shooting at the elementary school she worked at. The armed intruder, Michael Hill, who apparently suffers from mental illness, was negotiated down from committing a murderous tragedy by a front office worker, armed with no hostage skills or police background, using only herself as a proverbial shield connecting with Hill on a human level and used her own personal story to coax the twenty-year old man out of opening fire on any victims.

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This was a deeply touching act of bravery at a very tenuous time, the courageousness Tuff showed while presumably at gunpoint, maintaining her calm and keeping her composure and thus cooling the heated situation, resulted in an almost miraculous outcome despite Hill‘s five-hundred rounds of ammo. Equipped with no less than her heart, Tuff soothed the agitated gunman and related her experiences in mental health, laying bare her own attempted suicide and son’s dealings with issues, in order to familiarize Hill with her and defuse an otherwise likely climactically fatal scenario.

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Tuff‘s heroic display cannot help but give society great examples as to how we can all confront our own unexpected obstacles and alter our common misperceptions of mental health. Lending a delicate touch to those afflicted with the disease of mental illness, treating those with tenderness and care (“I’m proud of you”), Tuff can teach us all lessons in how we can collectively confront the unfortunate victims of mental illness, with love and kindness as opposed to punishment and ostracism.

In facing down the ominous, dark barrel of a gun, assured death, Antoinette Tuff did not blink. Instead she glanced up at the gunman himself, in what could have been – and most certainly felt like – the final moments of her life, the fearful Tuff stood firm but rather than extending a fist or rousing anger at her would-be assassin, she extends a hand and grants peace upon the afflicted Hill, assuring him he will be alright and he didn’t hurt anyone.

She cared, Tuff proclaimed to Hill. In doing so, she therefore deescalated a violent shootout and spared countless lives.

When we face our greatest challenges, instead of rushing to judgment and clenching our meaty paws, before we blame another victim or remain complacent, Antoinette Tuff proved maybe the best way to rise to the occasion is to proceed with grace and openness, that connecting and finding common ground brings us closer than coercion drives up apart, and we can catch more flies with honey than we could ever dream using vinegar.

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