You ever see that movie Signs with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix? I always thought of it like the story of an individual family during the movie Independence Day. Independence Day shows the big picture and the people in charge. Signs shows the struggle of one family to survive the invasion. I always feel that after a mass shooting the media is Independence Day and what is not shown are the individual struggles of every survivor.
I remember at the time of Sandy Hook I worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit in a hospital. I remember the day of the mass shooting texting my former co-workers at the children’s hospital. The worst part of that day was hearing from my friends that they were fine, that there were no survivors, so there were no hospital visits by injured children. They all died.
The months after Sandy Hook saw a decline in state psychiatric beds, a decline in state psychiatric funding, and gun legislation crafted by legislators who unfortunately know nothing about mental health.
This is a law that came out of Sandy Hook. Any one who signs in “voluntarily” for a psychiatric inpatient admission in the state of Connecticut has to give up their gun permit for a certain amount of time if they have one, and cannot apply for a pistol permit should they desire to for a certain period of time. Any person who is committed “involuntarily” as in “committed on a physicians emergency certificate” is not placed on this database and is able to apply for a pistol permit without an issue. Now those of us that work in mental health know, that people who are committed involuntarily are often more a risk to society than those who are voluntarily seeking the help. We also know how this puts up a barrier for suicidal firemen and policemen who would otherwise seek psychiatric care voluntarily. When this legislation was passed we had some meetings to discuss it and there was not one among us who felt this law made any sense. It also was not made clear who would actually enforce it.
So that backwards piece of legislation came out of the state government that had bore witness to the death of children. Babies.
Adam Lanza’s guns were his mothers. She had no contact with mental health. So it would not have prevented Sandy Hook in any way shape or form.
When I worked inpatient psychiatry I did a project about mass shooters. I studied 28 mass shootings perpetrated in schools in the United States. I can tell you they all had one thing in common- easy and open access to guns. From what I could find they also all had at least one contact with mental health care. In one interview it is near impossible to get a teenager to open up to you. I know from experience. It takes time. It also takes a teenager who is scared of the thoughts they are having to disclose them.
Depending on mental health care providers to identify any potential mass shooter is not realistic. Often these kids do not stick in treatment, and the APA put out a statement that basically said, We suck at predicting violence.
The other common vein I found among the ones I reviewed was that they all had spoken of committing a mass shooting at school or on social media at one point before the shooting.
The conclusions I drew from my research was to limit people’s access to guns and for teachers and students to report every time they hear or see a threat of a mass shooting. I can tell you from experience mental health providers have very little power in these situations. Meaning we have no ability to report a vague threat or an instinct that we feel someone is a danger to others. Unless a specific target is identified we cannot tell any one anything. Our mental healthcare system is set up to be reactive not preventative. And every time we do an assessment we are saying in that moment the person is not a danger to self or others. We are not saying they will never be a danger to self or others.
The frequency of mass shootings and the violence our children face and the ineptitude of our legislators to pass anything of substance terrifies me.
In the year 2018 we have a president who is rolling back every advance we have made socially and environmentally. We have children still dying. Senators and members of the GOP also being shot. And I find myself googling “bulletproof vests for children” and guess what they exist. They even have bulletproof inserts for children’s backpacks. I feel like I’m being punk’d I feel like lifetimes should see progress yet all mine has seen are declines.
Legislation that is meaningless is Independence Day. Me purchasing bulletproof vests for my sons to wear to kindergarten is Signs. Footage of news anchors in tears as they report another mass shooting of children is Independence Day. Me hugging my kids and kissing them and walking out with tears in my eyes every day that I leave them at daycare worrying that this will be the last time I see them alive is Signs.
To all the people out there trying to figure out to survive each day with your children. You are not alone.