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The Mental Health Factor in School Violence

Graphic by Chris Clough

Graphic by Chris Clough

After the most recent violent massacre in Parkland County, Florida, many citizens and students are fighting the government to demand change against the current gun laws. This battle for gun control has proven to be one of the most difficult in modern politics. Nonetheless, it is one of the most important battles of our time. According to statistics from a study done in 2016 by Dr. Adam Lankford, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Alabama, the number of guns possessed by a nation is directly correlated to the number of mass shootings in a country. However, there is only so much that we, as citizens, can do because gun control will only be solved by our representatives. So while we must continuously push our representatives to act accordingly, we also have to ask ourselves, what else can we, as citizens, friends, and educators, do to address this growing problem in American society? Just for a moment, let’s look past the guns and look at the people behind them.

In the past, most shootings have been perpetrated by teenagers or young adults. It has been gathered that they were almost all deeply disturbed by certain events/people in their lives or dealing with certain depression, anger or other mental problems. For certain cases, it happened as a child, as was the case for Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Florida shooter, who witnessed his father killed at the young age of 6. Cruz later developed a number of mental health issues, namely depression, OCD, and PTSD. In a study conducted by Dr. J Douglas Bremner, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University, he found that PTSD can affect the way the body responds to isolation and stress, which can leave the victim on constant high alert. Without proper care, PTSD might eventually cause a violent, deadly outburst, or suicide.

In other shooters, there might not be a clear trauma at all, which was the case for Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine shooters. His mother, Sue Klebold, has become a public speaker on mental health awareness. In a TED Talk, Klebold said, “The cruel behavior that defined the end of his life showed me that he was a completely different person from the one I knew.” She goes on to say that Dylan was never driven to hurt anyone, but was severely depressed and taken advantage of by his psychopathic partner, Eric Harris.

It is clear that each case is different from the other, and it is hard to compare shootings when the perpetrators have experienced either horrible events that affected them or were dealing with mental problems that put them over the edge. Thus, it is unfair to point to an entire population as if they are the problem, a tactic that gun advocates often use. Instead, we have to look to help these people before they become the infamous killers we loathe, not by focusing on a particular group, but rather, by improving our general care and support to all young adults. To do that, we as a society need to find ways to help the young adults that are so angry or troubled that they feel the urge to kill. Just in the past month, two more teenagers were turned in to the police by local relatives, both of whom had detailed plans and weapons, ready to attack their schools, one in Washington state and one in Vermont. As scary as it may seem, there is no clear end in sight to young adults that want to murder the innocent people around them in cold blood. That is why we need to make changes and take action while our representatives fail to do so.

We look at schools as solely educational institutions, teaching kids the essential information that they need. It’s time to take a more open approach as to what public schools in America can do for children. For students that do not live in a stable environment, schools need to act as a place that can provide emotional support that they are lacking at home. To do this, American public schools need more psychologists and trained mental health professionals. According to a Washington Post article, it is estimated that there is one school psychologist for every 1,381 students in U.S. public schools. This is an outrageous ratio that displays how little we care about the well-being of our students. On top of that, according to the ADAA, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in eight children suffers from anxiety disorders, and 80% of these kids are NOT receiving treatment. Of course, not everyone with an anxiety disorder is going to inflict violence on others. The point is that we do not care enough about the mental well-being of our children. Schools need to be a hub of support and care when students are lacking help at home. And, even if students do live in a stable home, many times they still are missing the extra help and support they need from their parents, because many times parents either don’t see what is going on or they simply don’t know how to deal with it. Local communities and public schools should not just educate students; they need to also educate parents. If done properly, schools can teach parents what to look for in their kids, whether it be depression, anxiety or an increase in anger. Parents do not have to be alone in raising their children properly, arguably one of the hardest jobs in anyone’s life.

With these solutions, we may be able to lessen the number of future school shootings, and more importantly, help children suffering with any type of mental health disorder. What all perpetrators have done was never the fault of the parents, friends or educators, but maybe, just maybe, if we cared a little more, we could all make a difference.

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The Mental Health Factor in School Violence