Shortly before Christmas, the world was shocked by the news about the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre. The school in Newtown, Conn., was the site of the mass murdering of 20-plus school children and teachers. Yes, we have had similar news in the past from the Columbine High School, Colorado movie theater, Virginia Tech University shootings and others.
Accounts of mass murders and serial killings farther back than that of “Jack the Ripper” are uncountable. And, yes there have been more school shooting tragedies since Sandy Hook. On Jan.10, a 16-year-old student armed with a shotgun walked into a classroom at a rural California high school, shot one student and fired at another before being talked into surrendering by a teacher. This attack came less than 1 month after the Sandy Hook gunman massacred his victims, and then committed suicide. This latter incident was certainly not the last to be heard of and, unfortunately, we can expect similar tragedies in our future.
Murder and mental illness
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre (said to be the largest in our country's history), a great amount of attention was given to talk about mental illness. The contention that murders are perpetrated by individuals with known or suspected mental illness is, to many, a foregone conclusion. Mentally healthy people don't do such things.
Many mass murderers and serial killers are psychotic and can have hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations can include hearing the voice of God or Satan, commanding them to commit the atrocity. Delusions can entail the belief by the killer that he/she has been chosen for this special purpose of carrying out a higher beings wishes.
Plea for more information
USA TODAY ran a Dec. 23 story about a mother named Liza Long. It said she reacted to the deaths of the children and teachers at Sandy Hook by posting a blog. It became viral. It emphasized her words: “In the wake of another horrific, national tragedy… it's time to talk about mental health”.
Also, on January 8, 2013 USA Today ran a story quoting another mother who's name is Leisl Stoufer of California, saying, in reaction to the Sandy Hook news: “I don't want to be the mother whose beloved child's face comes across a TV screen having committed such heinous acts as the one's we have seen so recently”. The implicit message seemed to be a plea for more focus, as a society, on our mental health/illness.
Soon after the atrocities, President Barack Obama's broadcast to the nation included statements that seemed to echo this sentiment, as if to say, ‘When our we going to start talking about our nation's mental health?'
Now, in response to observing the proliferation of similar concerns by like-minded people, it is opined that the answer to such a question could be: we have been, we are and we will continue to be talking about mental health issues. You see, it is being talked about more in our schools and taught about more by our teachers and mental health professionals than ever before.
The problem may not be that mental health issues are not being talked about, but that they are not being listened to and read about with more emphasis, less stigma and with more open-mindedness. We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go. Perhaps our talking about mental health issues is not frequent and organized and structured and regular enough. We tend to hear and talk and read about mental health and mental illness more often in the aftermath of tragedies such as Sandy Hook.
Perhaps, we need more regular, ongoing, public forums. Is there any TV station that has a built-in daily segment devoted to awareness/education/prevention as it relates to mental health issues? I know of none. I do know of typical lead news reports disclosing the latest horrid tragedy, usually of a violent nature, in our local, state and national medias. I don't see a counterpoint response, so to speak, on mental health awareness and reform.
I seem to hear about the short fallings of our society's response to the needs of our mentally ill citizens rather than the availability of treatment services. A lot of other people also tell me that they have the same perception.
Communities need to be made more aware of the talk that is going on about mental health. My goal is to inform. It is to O&E Media's credit that this column, “Our Mental Health,” has been printed monthly for more than a decade.
The world has not been, is not and will not be without its tragedies, exemplified by the Sandy Hook massacre. The link between such disasters and mental health has been talked about, but we need more listeners. We also need more regularity and formal, frequent dissemination of such information, in a manner that is highly visible, so as to enhance education and prevention versus crisis reactivity and stigma. There are a lot of misconceptions that can be corrected.