Treatment of mental illness is best answer

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 2, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 1, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

School shootings are nightmare scenarios for everyone. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 children and six women were killed, there is a national outcry demanding action to prevent another incident like this one.

Some are calling for stricter gun control while others, such at the National Rifle Association, say schools should have armed guards, such as police officers, on campus. In the Crossroads, two school districts made the decision to allow teachers and other members of school staff to carry concealed weapons on campus. Both districts would require staff members to get approval from the school board, undergo yearly training and complete a test for competency before bringing a firearm to school.

We know this is a complex issue and there may not be any single answer. What works for one district may not be as effective for others. However, we believe the main concern raised by the Sandy Hook shooting, or any mass shooting, is being ignored. The real question is, what could have been done before the shooting began to prevent this? How can we, as a society, better address the lack of mental health care options in our nation?

It's no secret mental illness carries a stigma. No one wants to entertain the possibility of something being wrong with either themselves or their loved ones. However, incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting illustrate a worst-case scenario of mental illness left untreated. It is true, a person dealing with mild depression or bipolar disorder is a far cry from the mental health problems suffered by those who attack unarmed children and teachers in a school. Not all mental illnesses are the same. However, Americans cannot afford to live in denial about this issue.

History has shown us violent criminals suffering from mental illness typically show warning signs before attacking others. According to Dr. Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brudnick professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, serial killers and mass murderers often start by killing animals before they move up to humans. Mass shooters tend to show an obsession with violence, suffer from social isolation and blame others for their problems.

Levin admits it can be difficult to predict who will be a potential shooter, as many of the traits shared by shooters are shared by millions of others who are not a threat to society. However, it only takes one instance of someone going without treatment or being treated improperly to create a disaster.

If we want to prevent another mass shooting, we must improve our mental health care system. We must provide funding to facilities equipped to treat these people. But most of all, we must let go of the stigma surrounding mental illness. By viewing these people as broken or less-than human, we exacerbate the problem. Until we find a way to recognize mental illness for what it is and provide viable treatment options, our nation will continue this vicious cycle of violence. If we act now, we may be able to stop another Sandy Hook.

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



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