Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Let go of stigma to stop future shootings

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 14, 2013 at 6:14 a.m.

A year ago Saturday, Americans were faced with a horrific tragedy. On the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after shooting and killing his mother at their home.

The shock waves from that day still circulate a year later and continue to raise the question, "How can we prevent these horrible events from happening again?"

We wish there was a simple, cut-and-dry answer to this question. But the truth is, these situations are never simple. In the immediate aftermath, when emotions were high and outrage was fresh, the national media and politicians called for more gun control. Several states, including Colorado and New York, passed strict laws limiting everything from the types of guns that could be sold to magazine capacity. Others took the opposite approach. A few districts have begun arming and training teachers to respond to these scenarios, including a few in Texas.

But a look at the other side of the world shows that controlling guns only addresses the symptom, not the cause. On the same day as the Sandy Hook shootings, a man in China stabbed 22 schoolchildren. Fortunately, none of the children died, but the message is clear: A person determined to commit violence will act with whatever weapon is available, whether it is a gun, knife, rock, baseball bat or bare fist. We are glad to know that schools around the Crossroads are taking precautions and have installed more security measures to protect our children, but Lanza entered the locked school by shooting out a window. Schools are first and foremost meant to be safe places for children to learn, but security measures will only go so far, and our schools should not be reduced to the equivalent of prisons on perpetual lockdown.

So how should we respond? It's time to look at the commonalities of the recent mass shootings in our society. In every case, the shooter had a history of mental illness that either went untreated, undiagnosed or was otherwise neglected in some way.

To be clear, mental illness does not always result in the massive violence we've seen in recent years. In fact, about one in four people in the U.S. will experience some form of mental disorder every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The problem is prevalent in our society, but mental illness is difficult to address for may different reasons. There are not always physical symptoms, which can make identifying mental illness difficult. In addition, there is a stigma and a lack of understanding in our society toward these conditions. Because of this, people tend to hide their problems instead of getting treatment that could help them take control of their mental health.

This is not the first time society has attached a stigma to a condition people have little control over. Cancer, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs and other diseases have all seen societal stigmas before education efforts helped people understand what the true problem is and how it can be treated. When the stigma goes away, there is more opportunity to address the condition. We must do the same for mental illness in America and the world.

We encourage residents of Victoria and the Crossroads to find ways to support the Gulf Bend Center and other mental health services in our area. We must educate ourselves and begin to support and encourage people suffering from mental illnesses in their search for help and understanding. Maybe if we can address these individual needs and identify problems early enough, we can avoid future incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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