We were all shocked and deeply saddened by the senseless murder of innocent children and those entrusted with their care. We are asking ourselves “how could this happen?” The scene is becoming all too familiar. The attack on innocents. The combat attire of the assailants. The automatic weapons. And suicide of the perpetrator.
Clearly, if these young children should not die in vain, it is our obligation to make some changes so we can avoid such future tragedies. The children who witnessed such horror must try to put this behind them and carry on being children. We adults must keep these events in clear focus and in front of us to motivate us to make the changes called for. What changes are called for?
We need to invest more money in mental health services. For years we have seen the dollars that support mental health services shrinking. The limited funds that are available are used to help support treatment of many thousands of Americans who seek mental health and substance abuse treatment. But far greater numbers of people go untreated and unrecognized, either to suffer in silence or until they explode upon their community, such as in Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, Tucson and others.
People suffer in silence because they do not know how to get help, because they and their families feel shame because of the stigma of having a mental health problem, or because of not understanding or recognizing the symptoms of a behavioral health disorder. We need to invest funds in having mental health workers going into the community, schools and houses of worship to equip our communities with the information they need to recognize a mental health problem, to know how to access help, and to reduce the shame and stigma about this all too common human condition. We need to reverse the course of having all mental health services fit the medical model, which is driven by a diagnosis and treatment, rather than the public health model of prevention and education.
We need to get assault weapons out of the hands of civilians. Assault weapons are made for one reason – to kill other human beings. They are not made for hunting deer or rabbits. Our right to bear arms does not entitle us to equip ourselves with weapons that put our police and communities in jeopardy. Let's raise our voices to put some sanity and responsibility into enforcing stricter gun laws.
We need to put some control around the production and distribution of violence in our media, particularly violent video games. We cannot escape the similarity between the terrible atrocities that have been committed and the violent video games that are readily available to our youth. These graphic displays of violence clearly impact on vulnerable minds. Just as we have laws limiting access to cigarettes and alcohol to our young people, we must have some control over access to violent material to those who are impressionable. These videos are so graphic and realistic that the line between real and unreal can become blurred for the more vulnerable among our youth.
As responsible adults in our society, let each of us vow to take action to move our society forward in the areas mentioned above. Write your national and local officials about funding for mental health, restricting access to automatic weapons and violence in our media. Stand up for the 6-year-olds and teachers who lost their lives by raising your voice to make these important changes. Together, we can and must make a difference. Our children are counting on us.
David S. Lauterbach, ACSW is President & CEO of The Kent Center.