It's a new year, with a chance for new beginnings, and I'm relieved to see that we haven't forgotten what happened in Newtown, Conn., in December. We cannot lose our horror over those 28 lost lives; we cannot accept that mass shootings will always be with us.

We desperately need to change our gun laws, as well as our mental-health system. In this community, our mental-health care lacks in several areas, particularly for the uninsured, and in continuity of services. We need a system that follows a client from beginning to end.

But none of this will matter if we don't change our attitudes toward mental-health conditions. We can build the best mental-health facilities in the world, but they won't do any good if people are ashamed to enter them. Mental-health care is not an "if we build it, they will come" proposition.
There is such great misunderstanding and prejudice surrounding mental-health issues that it's enough to keep anyone, particularly in these privacy-challenged days of the Internet, from seeking care. We have to join the medical profession in accepting that mental-health illnesses are just that — illnesses.
I have struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for more than 20 years and, from my vantage point, we haven't come very far. I am sometimes shocked at the misinformation I encounter, even among people in the profession.

But there's hope if we don't leave it up to others. There are simple things each of us can do to make a contribution. We can remember that it takes great strength, not weakness, to get help when we need it, and do so. We can be open to signs of distress in those around us, and reach out to them. And we can learn about mental-health conditions to help eradicate the stigma that leads to lack of care, which, as we've seen, can lead to heartbreaking consequences.

Mostly, we should keep in mind that we never know what another person is going through, from the barista who pours our morning latte to the person in the next cubicle. And remember that mental-health problems do not discriminate: No matter our age, ethnicity, gender or faith, we're all vulnerable.

It's a good reminder to be a little gentler, a little kinder in our interactions. We might not prevent another mass shooting, but we will learn to take better care of each other. I can't think of a better approach to the new year than that.

Therese Murphy of Orlando is a community activist who has worked for Harbor House, Safe House of Seminole and the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.