America has a problem with something, and it isn’t Muslims. Could adequate mental health treatment have prevented the Pulse Orlando Tragedy?

By now everyone is fully aware of the terrible events of Sunday June 12th 2016 at Pulse Orlando, a local nightclub catering for the gay community in Florida.

Fifty individuals were brutally gunned down in a massacre described widely by national media and the President Barack Obama as the worst one of its kind in US history. Outrage over the targeting of not only the gay community, but the latino/hispanic community has led to an outpouring of national and international mourning. Tearful vigils were held across the globe protesting decades long systematic mistreatment of the LGBTQ community. The attacker claimed in a 911 call shortly before going into the club that he was representing the interests of ISIS. The terror group later claimed responsibility for the atrocity.

The *individual responsible, was the son of an Afghani immigrant who had settled in the US. Discourse has centered around him coming from a Muslim family. The conservative media relished the opportunity to highlight this and so did Donald Trump, in a verbose speech designed to antagonize and incite fear in an attempt to justify his position. In a particularly obnoxious and characteristic tweet, Trump brags:

“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

Debates around gun control were again brought to the fore, and President Barack Obama was put in the all too familiar position of having to demand that we do something about the issue of military style assault weapons being in the hands of your average Joe. This is the 16th time he has had to do so during his tenure.

Mental Health in the US

Before I start, I wish to clarify that in no way is mental health linked to criminality as a causal factor. However, there is a massive issue in America with mental health issues not being diagnosed, disclosed, or treated. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI, approximately  1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. So, to give you a little bit of clarity, in a family of 5, at least one of you will have a mental illness at some point. Also notable is the statistic on homeless people ….

NAMI: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

More disturbingly is how few people seek, or receive treatment for their mental disorder …

NAMI: Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.

That is less than HALF of the target population. A travesty, and one that doesn’t appear to be taken seriously. There is still a serious stigma to disclosing a mental health condition, often with adverse consequences for those who do. It ranks right up there with disclosing your salary.

So, how can Mental Health be linked to the Orlando situation?

According to reports, the individual concerned made aggressive threats in the presence of a coworker and was quizzed by the FBI twice. Was there a mental hygiene assessment made at the time, and if not, why not? Access to guns could have been postponed on mental health grounds.

Whilst this was definitely an act of terror, the full context also needs to be noted from an individual level. What were the contributing factors that led him to carry out that heinous act? Could he have had an undiagnosed mental health condition?

One can only speculate, but if appropriate restrictions had been put in place then maybe this individual could have been contained or even treated appropriately, and thus needless loss of life avoided. As a wider issue, unless the issue of Mental Health is brought out into the open, and the sparse patchwork of services expanded to allow everyone to seek appropriate treatment, then being depressed or hiding an anger management condition will continue to be swept under the rug.

*I do not wish to name him as I don’t wish to give him or his twisted perspective publicity at all. Hence, references to the ‘individual’, or ‘attacker’.


Dark Justice Series – A ‘dark’ satire on the state of race relations in the US


(hosted on Che Holloway (Rochester, NY – Right) stars as Police Officer Johnson, the only African-American Police Officer in a predominantly white town.

Can we as a nation LAUGH about the current racial tension in America?

Well, according to Mike Gerbino (Director) and Che Holloway (Actor), both upstate natives of New York, we should be doing exactly that as a means to explore and address the complex dynamic that is race relations in the US.

Dark Justice is a six part webseries that focuses on a small-town police station becoming a conduit for challenging stereotypes surrounding African Americans, and also white privilege that obstructs constructive criticism of  the majority group in society. Che Holloway, a young (25 years old) up and coming actor who splits his time between New York City and Rochester, sat down with me to talk about the series and his passion for acting ….

Saj: The web series deals with a lot of issues to do with racial tension. How did you get to play a part in the production?

Che:  It was interesting … the writer/director Mike Gerbino we had a mutual friend Alan Williams who told me about it … As a young black male, the script really resonated with me.

Saj: So, in total, how long did it take to produce?

Che: I wanna say about 2 weeks total … in reality the production was split into parts due to taking breaks … we filmed the first episode a year before the rest of them, just to test the waters.

Saj: And you are originally from Rochester, right? You split your time between NYC and Rochester during filming, how did that work?

Che: Yeah, well I am a native of Rochester …. I started my acting career at AMDA (The American Musical and Drama Academy in New York City) so I moved there for a year, and stayed afterwards, working acting jobs. Then I decided to come home. It is pretty cool, I went out there to survive, and then I came back.

Saj: So, what sparked your interest in acting?

Che: Well, this is going to sound really funny but when I was around 10, I was watching Harry Potter, and I was thinking y’know these kids are around my age, and I could do that. So that’s what started the ‘fire’. And a couple of years after that I went to School of the Arts in Rochester, graduated, from there I did a Geva theatre Summer Academy,  and I went to AMDA. My first national gig was on the Oprah Winfrey Network, on the season 2 finale of Unfaithful.

Saj: Going back to the Dark Justice series, explain a little about the storyline. Why is comedy a good way to approach this subject matter? And how was it for you as a person of color performing some of the material?

Che: It was hard personally in the sense that I worried about what the backlash could be. In the end I decided life was too short, people will always have opinions good or bad, so why not just deliver. The series makes you think, it isn’t that far from reality, a little exaggerated sure, but definitely close to reality at times. We are hoping that with enough interest, we can put it on something like Hulu or Netflix.

Saj: Thinking about the way that justice is served, I was watching Dateline the other night (the Charlie Tan case that made national news), and I had a thought that if he hadn’t been an individual from a well-off community, and instead had been african-american, this may have played out differently ….

Che: Oh yeah, I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Saj: And have you ever personally experienced stereotyping?

Che: Well a couple of years ago, I was in a play, To Kill a Mockingbird, in a small town near here (which I won’t name). As I left the back, there was a man on a motorbike who just looked at me and said “you need to get out of here, you don’t belong here”. I didn’t know what to do, I just thought, here I am far away from home, in his neck of the woods, so if I were to say or do anything I would be seen as the aggressor, even though I wasn’t. I’m more cerebral, I think about things before I act. So, I took a chill pill, told him “have some gum” (had to get one in) and then left. It was a little awkward, you see those kinds of things happen on TV, and don’t expect them to happen in real life.

Saj: So … you mentioned you are an alum of School of the Arts. There are obviously a few famous individuals who also graduated from there (Taye Diggs and Seymour Dustin Hoffman to name but two). Do you feel that pressure of having  a lot to live up to?

Che: Laughs oh yes, I have big boots to fill. I got to meet Taye Diggs (former alumni of School of the Arts) while he was performing in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and we took a selfie of course (laughs). He is a really good guy.

Saj: So what else do you have in the pipeline?

Che: I have a project called Elysian fields, which is kind of like a combination of Othello and Django Unchained. And this summer we are going to be shooting season 2 of Dark Justice.

Saj: Sounds like you are keeping busy!

Che: I am!

Dark Justice Season 1 is available on the comedy website