David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times and one of my favorite commentators, made an excellent point following the senseless killing of 28 people on this past Friday in Connecticut. He said, “We need more than gun control to manage this kind of mass violence.” He went on to say, “We need to address the mental health issues involved in such cases and the press needs to stop talking about the shooters and refuse to publicly name them.”
Actually mental health professionals discovered some time ago that in cases of teenage suicide, it was counter productive to make too much of a public outcry about it because it led to copy cat behaviors. I think that Brooks’ point that the name of the shooter should never be mentioned is an excellent one because it would send the message that there is no fame to be gained from committing such acts of violence.
Even in the aftermath of the shooting on Friday, there was much more attention being paid to the particulars about the shooter than the victims. If mentally unstable folks are led to believe they can get their 15 minutes of fame by killing a group of people because they have observed this in the past, then we certainly need to find a way to change that expectation.
But, as Brooks noted, we have such scarcity when it comes to mental health services and access to the ones that exist is often prohibited by costs and over population, so many people who need the services cannot get them.
Also, we are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to accepting the importance of mental health. The thought that one who seeks counseling is crazy and deficient because of their willingness to seek help continues to plague our nation. This kind of thinking and the lack of receptiveness to mental health services reinforces the idea that they are not necessary.
The violence that continues to be exhibited by people who use guns to address their fears, loneliness, rage and any other mental malady that they have begs us as a culture to get our heads out of the sand and take notice of what is really going on in our country. It is too easy to decide that there is a unilateral remedy that can fix multi-layered problems.
Indeed, guns need to be controlled. There are too many of them and many folks are enormously attached to their guns, but even when we change the laws and make it harder to get guns and make it illegal to have assault weapons, we will still have the problem of mixing guns with mental illness and folks with such struggles not having access to genuine help. We should at least have as many places to receive mental health services as there are places to obtain guns.
The irony is that no one would walk around with a broken leg, but we have no problem with people who have broken hearts and souls spending a lifetime in pain because of the idea that seeking help for a psychological problem is evidence of grave weakness.
This idea needs to be campaigned against in a major way and every state in this country should rethink its mental health services and begin the work of finding a way to make sure those services are improved.
Then we need better ways to monitor who can purchase a gun and how much ammunition they can buy. We need to address our cultural addiction to violence. Even though we know there are no quick solutions to this enormous problem, all persons of goodwill and faith should feel compelled to think about it and ponder how they can help in solving it as soon as possible.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.