Friday, October 24, 2014

Fear of What Should be Safety

Everyday my three beautiful girls go off to public schools.  These institutions have always been a place where kids are supposed to be safe from the dangers of the world.  I mean besides bullying, which I know from personal experience can get pretty darn ugly, in general schools are supposed to be safe havens from the general nastiness of the world.  But more and more lately I have questioned that, and even begun to actively fear sending my girls to school.  It really feels like every time I turn around there is another school shooting, or another one that is planned and the police happen to stop because someone tips them off.  It's getting so out of control.  I don't ever remember this many major acts of senseless violence in schools when I was growing up.  In fact the Columbine school shooting happened after I graduated high school, and it seems like we have gone seriously downhill from there.

Today, another one.  This one in Marysville, WA, not all that far from my area.  Not much is known right now other than two people have had to be flown out by helicopter and the shooter is dead.  Last year there was another one even closer to us in Gresham, OR where both the shooter and another young man lost their lives.  Both of these and all the others are senseless tragedies that never needed to happen.  In the end all we are left with is the question of why?  We can all guess at the answers.  Maybe the shooter left a note or clues, and maybe they didn't.  Maybe there was a history of bullying or mental illness, and then again maybe not.  But if we can't answer why then how can we prevent them?

I have been saying for a long time the answer lies in early detection and prevention of mental illness and bullying prevention.  Now granted I just said above maybe we wouldn't have known, and I think the reason for that is the people that are interacting most with these kids are not trained to look for the subtle signs that things are not going so well for them.  Everyone keeps jumping up and down screaming about gun control or arming the teachers or more police in the schools or more security measures like metal detectors.  Then again, maybe not.  These things aren't going to prevent an incident they are made to react to an incident.

Instead I think we need to create programs in our schools where teachers are trained to look for signs of mental illness, signs of behavior change.  They need to look for the subtle signs of bullying and learn to address them appropriately.  There needs to be a referral system so potentially at risk students can be screened further and put into a program with specialists to help them work through their issues.  Parent involvement in these programs would be crucial and additional training and literature would need to be made available to them as well.  Would this program be costly?  Sure it's not going to come cheap, but can we really put a price on the health and well being of our children let alone their lives? 

It's obvious more force is not working.  Meeting fire with fire is not the answer.  Let's try meeting fire with water and try putting the flame out before it turns into a raging inferno and we are left to deal with the aftermath.  I for one am terrified of being the parent that gets the call that my child's school has had an active shooting.  I am terrified of one of my girls getting hurt in an incident like this.  I want my children, and all children to be safe at school and everywhere in society.  I also want the children to get the help they need earlier in life because early intervention in mental illnesses means you are less likely to have someone with serious psychological issues down the road.  You have a better chance of having a contributing member of society when they become an adult.  Our prisons are full of people with mental illness.  If we can get to them before it fully manifests and becomes an issue and help them get early treatment maybe we can even keep them out of prison and lower our crime rate.  Now wouldn't that be something?

I'm not saying this is the key to solving all our societal problems.  What I am saying is it's time to reform the way we look at mental illness and start using opportunities we have in interacting with young people as early intervention.  Will we catch them all?  Probably not.  Will it solve everything?  No.  Will there still be acts of violence?  I'm sure.  But if we can save even one life wouldn't it be worth it?  What's the price of one child's life?

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