More than guns: a lesson from Sandy Hook shooting

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“That could be our town,” I heard people saying on Friday as the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary began to come to light. “That looks so much like my son’s school,” one mother said in the doctor’s waiting room where we sat watching the news. In the faces of the victims, we see our own children, our own teachers, our own friends, colleagues, and family members.

I am still shuttling between disbelief, sadness, anger, and fear.

Fear most of all.

But yesterday, one mother’s words made me realize that my fear–that something like this might happen in my community–was nothing compared to the greater terror of fearing that her child might commit a similar act: 

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me. A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan — they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me. […]

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.” […]

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. 

While there has been some debate regarding the “facts” behind the “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” post that has gone viral, I think the basic issue–many young people with mental health problems are not recieving adequate care and treatment–is one we all ought to be attending to with as much care and attention as the question of better gun control in this country. 

There. After a whole morning of typing and deleting sentences, I said something about the shooting.

 

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