In my first post, I made comments about what occurred in Newtown and gave an overview of the problem, primarily from a psychiatrist’s perspective. I do, however, have some specific comments that while difficult to implement, might help reduce the likelihood of such tragedies occurring with frequency.
We hear public service announcements about how heart attacks can kill, or that cancer can kill, along with advice that early diagnosis and intervention save lives. The public airwaves carry messages about childhood asthma, cystic fibrosis, obesity and diabetes. Yet, nothing is ever stated that severe mental illness (depression, some forms of schizophrenia) can kill as well. These are unmentionables in the media. We need public service announcements to help destigmatize these disorders because they can kill—the afflicted person as well as others.
Our culture and entertainment have changed drastically. There used to be one family TV with a limited number of stations. Today, a house may have three or more televisions (with 600 stations) and it’s typical for each kid to have a bedroom TV. Or to have a computer (or handheld device) on which music, videos, and the Internet can be streamed. There’s less entertainment today that’s life-affirming; there’s much more filled with anger, violence and a nihilistic world view. Parents must be more aware of their children’s entertainment fare in today’s, multi-modal, digitalized (and increasingly desensitizing) world. I’m not talking about banning or trampling freedom of speech. I’m simply saying we must stop supporting some entertainment by not buying into that which glorifies hatred and violence.
Parents should stop trying to be “friends” to their kids. Empathy with and understanding our children are fine, but they don’t mean we relinquish responsibility or authority. Too many parents seem to do just that.
Parents must band together to guide their children and promote a more positive world view. Parents of kids who are friendly must speak with each other and be aware of their kids’ activities and access to the Internet, video games, and music. Yes, parents are working and have full lives; but to ignore these issues is to invite trouble with possibly tragic consequences.
Kids should be encouraged to inform their parents or teachers about any “strange” behavior or verbal pronouncements by a friend or classmate. They should be dissuaded from feeling this is somehow “ratting out” another kid. Rather, it’s an obligation to everyone to report these things. After all, we’re all in this life together.
Parents should be exquisitely aware of any entertainment that debases authority figures or any group of people for any reason.
And from a psychiatric perspective, let’s face it: it’s a fact of life that some troubled people should never own or have access to a weapon of any kind. There should be strict mental health background checks of anyone wishing to purchase a weapon, for any reason. This certainly doesn’t infringe on any sane person’s right to bear arms.
I recently watched two films that powerfully depict the erosion of respect young people have for school, parents and authority. They depict the coarsening of our culture and its effects on young people. The first is Detachment which paints a bleak portrait of an inner city public school, and the burned out ennui affecting the teachers, along with the struggle of poor youngsters to find anything positive in their lives. There’s a scene in which not a single parent shows up for Open School Day.
The second film is Margaret, which takes place in a Manhattan private school. While the film dives into issues of right and wrong, it also depicts the students’ lack of respect for teachers and each other. And it tellingly portrays a mother’s preoccupation with her career to the extent whereby she doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on with her seventeen year old daughter.
We must also revisit HIPPA regulations about patients’ privacy rights. Today, the mother of a twenty year old Paranoid Schizophrenic whose behavior is erratic and deteriorating, cannot ask her son’s treating psychiatrist about his treatment, even though he lives under her roof and depends on her for everything—food, clothing, and shelter. It defies common sense.
Yes, there are laws, rules, regulations and the Constitution. But what we need as much as anything is common sense. Unless we use common sense in making adjustments to the scourge of mass killings that has spread across our country, we will all be victims, again and again.
Author, “Mad Dog House”