Organizing Theory & Artistry

Reflections on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

"Die Mütter" by Käthe Kollwitz (1922 or 1923). From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The news today of the school shooting in Connecticut is awful beyond words.

It can be so easy to get down on the world in general when you hear such terrible things. I sincerely hope that there will be a thorough investigation of this situation where we will try to draw out some lessons to prevent these mass shootings in the future. For now, all we can do is grieve for the loss of these innocent people.

While many people are quick to jump on the guns issue, I wish we would be more ready to jump on the mental illness issue. I have to assume that no sane person would commit a mass shooting of small children, no matter how angry or how many weapons the person had access to.

When I was researching obsessive-compulsive disorder for my blog last year, it was a real eye-opener to realize that many serious mental illnesses don’t even appear until after the age of 18. Most of these illnesses seem to appear from ages 18-21.

Parents in society are conditioned to think that if you just get your child to graduate high school, you have done your job and your child is now ready to face the world. What we all need to realize is that in this transition from the highly structured environment of childhood and the public school system to “real life” (whether that is work or college), there are many young adults who are going to be mentally strained.

If we are thinking about real prevention efforts to avoid future mass shootings, to my mind the key factors are:

  1. Making sure that mental illness care (whether through psychologists, counselors or medical doctors) is covered by insurance or well-funded through public health initiatives.
  2. Improving mental health screening efforts. Could a mental health screening be required as part of preventive care for all high school seniors, similar to an annual physical?
  3. Training parents, family practice doctors and high school students about the signs of mental illness and how to get confidential help if you need it.
  4. Removing stigma about mental illness generally and making it possible to proactively inform an employer or school about any aspects of your life that raise the risk of violence without discriminatory repercussions.

I’m sure there are many other possible solutions to this problem but “the answer” is more likely to be complex than simple.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families in this unbearable sadness.