3 ways you can prevent mass shooting tragedies in your neighborhood.
My heart goes out to the victims and families of those who died during this most recent senseless tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Being a parent and professional counselor myself, I felt a guttural pain imagining how I would feel if my child had been shot. My grief can only be a miniscule fraction of what the parents whose children were shot are feeling. My hope is that we respond to all of the victims with compassion and caring.
I am encouraged by the outpouring of care focused on the children, and educators who were shot, and their families. The reactions to Adam Lanza’s action’s are all over the place from calling him evil, blaming his Asperbergers diagnosis, blaming his mom for teaching him how to use guns, blaming his mom for having guns in the home. All the blaming and pointing fingers will not bring the children and educators back. Pointing at one person, mental illness, guns or evil only trivializes the problem. There is not one thing that caused this tragedy; the best answer is “all of the above” contributed to the tragedy.
Prevention of this type of tragedy involves addressing all the pieces of the puzzle. This can feel overwhelming to the average person. Law makers can address gun control, and mental health funding. Churches and religious leaders can help with the questions about good and evil.
So what can you and I do?
1. Write your congressman encouraging law changes in gun control and mental health funding.
The ban on assault rifles in the past decreased the damage done by mass shooters. Over the past 40 years, mental health funding has been gradually stripped away. In the past, those who suffered from schizophrenia and were hallucinating would be helped. Now, there are no funds available to help someone get stabilized unless they are actively suicidal or homicidal. Those who are mentally ill and intelligent, know enough to say they are not suicidal or homicidal thus preventing themselves from getting help. “It is not illegal to be crazy” is a phrase I have heard many times from those who could have detained and provided help to stabilize a mentally ill person. We can request lawmakers to change the laws to require those who are not mentally stable to get help.
2. Address your own fear associated with people who live on the fringes and/or are mentally ill.
In high school I had a friend who tried to commit suicide. When she showed me her bandaged wrists, I froze in fear. I didn’t know what to say to her and I feared suicidal thoughts were catchy. How I wish I could go back now, and hear her story, and help her to feel accepted. Instead, I perpetuated her isolation and proved her right that people don’t understand her. Since then I have talked with hundreds of depressed and suicidal people, heard their stories and helped them to feel like someone cares. I don’t fear mental illness anymore, and I know it is not “catchy”. Mostly, they need community, to feel accepted and cared for, just like everyone else. Each and every one of us can choose to pay attention to signs of distress in fragile mentally ill people.
3. Reach out to those who have mental illness or live on the fringes.
Adam Lanza’s high school provided a supportive environment for him while he was in high school. After graduation, he lost that support and became more isolated and reclusive. In isloation, people lose sight of reality. We need to reach out to those who are suffering from mental illness building a bridge to them so they don’t drown in depression and isolation. From desperation, come desperate actions. The odds are that you know someone like Adam in your family or neighborhood. What would happen if you reached out to that person, developed a relationship with them and invested in their life?
Here are a few ways to reach out to those in need.
a. Intentionally talk to quiet people on the fringes, and ask them to tell their story. Don’t judge them, or try and fix their problem, do offer to be their friend and a person they can trust to help.
b. Ask for professional help if needed. You can call and get assistance from a professional on how to talk to those who are mentally ill.
c. If a parent is struggling with raising a child (lots of school and home issues) offer to let them talk with you about their struggles. Be supportive and encouraging to the parent, don’t judge them.
d. Notice and say something when you see “signs of distress” from someone. Usually they leave lots of clues, as a “call for help”.
The reality of children with mental illness is profound. Parents are desperate for help and feel isolated and stigmatized by those who judge them. I can’t tell you how many stories like this I have heard in the community in which I live and others. Parents and families living with mental illness need a community of support and assistance to prevent tragedies from happening.