As a psychiatrist and human being, I understand the complicated swirl of emotions people felt and still feel about the horror of Newtown, Connecticut. This is especially true for those with young children, though I think most of us reel in revulsion when we think of that terror-filled day. It’s a natural human reaction.
One tries to comprehend the profound sorrow of those who lost children that day. The ripple effect spreads—widely and deeply. On the day it happened I was in a supermarket where many employees were from Newtown and the surrounding area. They were in a state of abject shock, and some ran home for fear their children were victims.
I’m asked frequently to provide insights about Newtown—how to understand that tragedy, and how to learn something from it. It’s impossible to provide some psychiatric nostrum or unitary explanation for what happened, but I do have some thoughts. And they don’t all relate to psychiatry.
The horror of Newtown calls into question who we are as a society and how we relate to our children. We must look more closely at our schools, the entertainment our kids watch, and at our very culture itself—who and what we are as a nation. And, we must examine our mental health delivery system.
It’s clear that the young man who committed these crimes was a disturbed and tortured soul whose inner demons exploded that day. I’m struck by the fact that in each of these mass killings—whether in Aurora, Colorado; Arizona; Virginia Tech; a shopping mall; a high school; an elementary school in Newtown; or wherever these killings occur—the shooter is always a young, loner male with deep-rooted mental problems that were either ignored or inadequately treated. And invariably, he gave many warning signs of his mental state before acting.
Usually, after a few weeks of media frenzy and renewed debates about gun control and mental illness, we go back to our daily lives and concerns. The horror of it all fades into the background.
But these terrible events are a cause for deep, probing soul searching about many issues, some not pleasant to examine: access to assault weapons; the depersonalizing effects of some video games and CGI action films; our music; and the coarsening of our culture with its desensitizing influences on those who are emotionally vulnerable. Looking into these worrisome concerns can make us feel uncomfortable.
But if we don’t address them, these tragedies will occur again and again.