The sight of the beautiful, toothless grins of so many innocent children who were killed last week by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School is enough to make most people wonder what can be done to stop such madness. Solutions might be difficult to come by in the short-term, but clearly more emphasis needs to be put on the care and treatment of people facing mental health issues — though perhaps not for the reason some might think.
A recent national telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports found that 48 percent of Americans believe more action to treat mental health issues will do the most to prevent incidents like Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The shooting of 20 children and six adults at the Connecticut elementary school apparently was committed by a 20-year-old, who also is believed to have killed his mother. Following his deadly spree, in which the young man also turned the gun on himself, many are rushing to conclusions about his mental stability.
More and improved dialogue about mental health — also known as behavioral health issues — could be one possible positive outcome from this horrible tragedy. Though some might automatically jump to the conclusion that the shooter did what he did because of mental health issues, Leslie Bjork, clinical director for the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, 2537 Eisenhower Road, Ottawa, said the myth of linkage between mental health and violence should be dispelled since people facing mental health issues don’t have any higher preponderance toward violence than people who don’t have mental health issues. In fact, people with mental health issues more often than not are victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
“The linkage [between violence and mental health issues] isn’t warranted,” Bjork said. That linkage has been an unfortunate, though faulty, consequence of many mass killing sprees, she said.
Mental health concerns still need increased focus following Friday’s shooting and others because of the ravaged scene that first responders confronted, as well as those faced by the survivors — the educators and students who witnessed the shooting spree. Those who survived, no doubt, will face their own mental health concerns wondering why they survived when others did not. Families of the victims also will face problems dealing with the senseless violence. Of course, the ripple effect of such violence goes well beyond those who live in Connecticut.
Nearly every parent or grandparent and even those who have never had children are impacted by the violent nature of this situation and the helplessness they feel about preventing other similar situations in the future. Soul searching is bound to continue until more answers are known about the reasons for this crime, but one thing is clear: The victims’ families, first responders and others could benefit from some mental health counseling to aid those who were left behind. They must deal with their own grief and find a way to move on.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher