In the wake of the tragic events that took place in Newtown, CT, I wanted to chime in on the emotions and opinions that have been expressed in the media (broadcast, digital, print and otherwise).
The anger has been unequivocally and hastily directed at the lack of gun control legislation. And while I wholeheartedly agree that this needs to be urgently addressed, I am curious as to why there is not the same level of anger being directed toward the lack of social infrastructure to address mental health issues. Clearly, this killer had some issues. If his mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook, I can’t believe this was an indiscriminate act of violence.
I’m not surprised, of course. Nobody wants to talk about *whisper* mental health. We prefer to brush it off, instinctively calling these killers “crazy” and crying to have them thrown into jail or onto death row.
But what if somebody had caught on to some early signs of trouble and knew where to go to see how this individual might be assessed and, dare I say it, even helped? That’s the trouble. As bystanders, we don’t know where to go for “this sort of thing”. Slowly, society is coming out on mental health stigmas like depression or bipolar disorders, but what of more fright-inducing conditions such as schizophrenia?
Here in Canada, I keep hearing sound bites from politicians about needing a “mental health strategy”. Organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation have been able to develop and communicate clear strategies for what to do if someone is having a heart attack or stroke. We know to act within minutes to help save a life. And while I don’t know any statistics, I would hazard to guess that these have had an impact on lowering the severity of the events, and hopefully even slightly helped lower fatality rates. A condition like schizophrenia is obviously going to be a lot more difficult to diagnose, but we have to start somewhere. If I don’t even know what to be on the lookout for, how can I possibly help?
Isn’t it interesting how every time we come across dramatic stories like the Newtown shootings, the profiles about the killers invariably make mention of how they “kept to themselves, didn’t talk much, were loners”? I am undoubtedly being very simplistic in saying this, but instead of deeming them eccentric or odd, and ignoring them, are we better off trying to draw them in to see if they need help? And yet, again, how can I do this if the category of “needs help” hasn’t even been defined for me? It’s just so much easier to call for gun control.
While we have only scratched the surface of the facts behind this case, I really don’t think the Newtown tragedy is a one-dimensional event. Get some gun controls in place and quickly, yes, but let’s also ask ourselves this: if we’d been able to spot someone with a mental health disorder, given him the help and/or medication he needed, would this have happened?