Now is time to cry for innocents, then act
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BY RON MANDERSCHEID
We must grieve for the innocents in Newtown, and we must now take action.
The chasm is unbridgeable between our preparations for the current holiday season and the killing of the innocents today in Newtown, Conn. I am certain that, tonight, most of us in America are confronted with and deeply concerned about this rip in the fabric of a typical American community. It could be yours; it could be mine. Without a doubt, there is no greater tragedy in a society than losing its young, its own future, so needlessly and so senselessly. Such actions strike at the very heart of who we are and who we hope to become.
So we must grieve - for the families who lost the innocents, for the families of their teachers who were lost, for the Newtown community and for America itself. Today was a very, very difficult day for all of us. When threatened this way, we turn to our families, our communities and our faith. Each provides us needed support at such times of great difficulty.
But we owe the innocents much, much more than just our crying. They also deserve our action to find and implement solutions to these social dilemmas of our time.
We must come to terms with the fact that 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed us and our society in ways that we do not yet fully understand. One only needs to turn on a television to view multiple murders each night. Or, just play a video game, and one can participate in several thousand "kills" over the course of an hour. Each day, there are 32 murders in America. Our social integration is ebbing away, and we are rapidly becoming inured to violence and death. In an era of global, instant communication, we are more distant than ever from each other. We must recognize these glaring symptoms and act.
What can we do? We can begin our own road to recovery by taking several major steps that have been very obvious for quite some time:
Immediately ban assault weapons and pistols, such as the Glock. Our Founding Fathers and the Second Amendment writers never envisioned that we would be using this right to kill each other. Assault weapons were designed for the battlefield, not our closets. We must not be distracted from this objective by the National Rifle Association and the ideology it promotes.
Immediately set about developing new standards for our entertainment industry. Violence and death are projected through every venue. Our movies, television, video games and music all exude violence and death. If possible, computer animations have made this violence ever more horrific. We absolutely must change this deplorable situation.
Immediately set about rebuilding our local communities. One's community should be a place of support and refuge rather than of fear. One should not have to fear going to school and being killed. Sociologists have known for centuries that social integration and support do reduce conflict and violence. Good social integration also reduces trauma and its negative effects, including mental illness. The UK has already incorporated this thinking into its approach to health; we must do the same.
Immediately double the capacity of city and county behavioral health care systems. All who work in the social service fields know that it is virtually impossible to get mental health care for many people who desperately need it. Only about a third of those with moderate illness and two thirds of those with severe illness ever receive any care at all. Why? Because our city and county systems lack the fundamental resources and capacity to deliver much needed care. The Affordable Care Act provides a wonderful opportunity to change this deplorable situation; we must do it.
Immediately initiate training to recognize the signs of mental illness and to promote help-seeking when needed. Most students go through high school and college without a single hour of training about mental illness, its signs or its treatment. We can't expect people to step forward or to seek help for a family member with mental illness when we don't even provide them the rudimentary tools to do so. We know how to do this today; we must.
Yes, we must grieve for the innocents, just as we grieved for those lost in Tucson, Aurora and Portland. But, this time, our grieving must have a direction and purpose to galvanize action. The innocents expect nothing less of us.
Ron Manderscheid is executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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