Lessons to be Learned from School Shootings
February 28th, 2018
On February 14, 2018, the special day devoted annually to spreading love, the world learned of a yet another hateful school shooting that killed 17 people and injured dozens more. A football coach, an athletic director, and young, innocent students in the prime of their lives, were among those gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The shooter has been described as “troubled.” He lost both of his adoptive parents and was in a foster home. He was expelled from school last year for fighting and other problems. A 2016 Florida DCF report indicated he engaged in self-harm by cutting his arms, announced plans to buy a gun, put racial slurs and hate symbols on his backpack, and reportedly suffered from various mental illness conditions. In the time leading up to the shooting, he made disturbing social media posts.
With Parkland being less than a two-hour drive across Alligator Alley, along with headlines of arrests for threats made to our own schools in recent weeks, this tragedy, and these issues, hit far too close to home.
When tragedies like the Sandy Hook, Columbine and Parkland school massacres occur, journalists and the community turn to psychiatric professionals for help understanding why such things happen. Experts look at genetics, psychiatric disorders, early childhood experiences, social challenges, devastating traumas and triggers, etc. While often times there are some striking commonalities, there are always unique differences as well–no two situations are ever exactly the same. Many are digging deeper to understand the root causes of these situations.
While this investigation continues, our communities, reeling in pain, also need comfort. These horrific incidents remind us of how precious and fragile human life is and remind us to appreciate our loved ones that much more.
These situations remind us of the importance of friends, community and religious institutions. People are gathering together in vigils, prayer meetings are happening and marches are being planned. People are reaching out to each other and know that their pain is shared. Of course, such communal bonding can’t change what has already happened. But when tragedy occurs, a community weaves itself together to form a feeling of safety and give everyone a sense of stability and purposeful direction. Studies tell us that when individuals are able to find some meaning in suffering, they are more likely to recover with fewer emotional scars.
These tragedies also need to raise public consciousness about the facts around mental illness. Experts agree that individuals who engage in mass shootings suffer some sort of mental health challenge. That being said, the public may be led to believe that every person who has a mental health issue is at risk for becoming a mass murderer. That is absolutely not the case! The vast majority of people with a mental illness are not a threat to others. They care about human life as much as anyone else, and have no desire to hurt or be hurt by another human. In fact, those who suffer with a mental illness are more often the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.
The real question to be raised is not “Should we be scared of people with psychological problems?” but “How can we help people who are affected by mental health issues?” David Lawrence Center (DLC) is just one mental health center among hundreds in the country dedicated to helping those who have a psychiatric challenge, and help is only one phone call away. David Lawrence Center’s highly trained clinical staff have the expertise to assist people in maintaining and enhancing emotional wellness. At DLC, recovery from mental health challenges is the expectation not the exception.
We partner closely with the Collier County Public School system and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to care for those in need. We applaud their responsiveness to the recent incidents in our community by developing the new “Keep Collier Safe” initiative to make reporting threats easier than ever. With your help, we can all work together to improve the sense of wellbeing not only for the individual, but for our community as a whole.
While incidents like the Parkland shooting should never take place, the heartbreaking reality is that they do and are happening more often. These types of incidents continue to reinforce the need for communities to look at root causes and mobilize solutions. This is an opportunity to advance conversations, as a country, as a state, and locally, to better support mental health care.
We must mobilize action for positive change. We must stand with the brave students of Parkland, and others around the country, who are demanding change and demanding action.
There are reasonable measures and interventions, such as those being proposed in Senator Kathleen Passidomo’s Bill (SB 2502) to be supported and we ask her fellow colleagues in the state legislature to pass the Bill. The solutions include enhancing school security measures and embedding mental health professionals in schools to assist with teacher and student education on mental health prevention, early intervention and treatment. These are measures we can all get behind that will enhance the safety and welfare of our children and communities. Senator Passidomo has been a determined champion in leading these efforts. We appreciate her leadership and vision as this Bill was filed well before the recent tragedy because she knew these were critical issues to address.
We all need to choose to be powerful agents of change! Let’s not just talk this time, let’s ACT!
Scott Burgess is the President and Chief Executive Officer of David Lawrence Center, Collier County’s only comprehensive, not-for-profit mental health and addiction recovery treatment center serving children, adults and families.
Throughout his illustrious 25-year career, he has been a proven clinician working with children, adolescent and adults, and is a highly recognized leader with deep knowledge of community mental health and integrated healthcare.
Passionate about effective policy for those struggling with mental illness, Burgess co-authored legislation that became law in Illinois to develop its first-ever, five-year statewide mental health strategic plan (2013-2018).
He is currently working with Collier County on the development of a mental health strategic plan and he advocates at the state-level through his Board involvement with the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network and Florida Council for Behavioral Health.
David Lawrence Center is a Southwest Florida-based, leading provider of innovative, integrated treatment solutions that include inpatient, outpatient, residential and community-based services. For more information, call 239-455-8500 or visit DavidLawrenceCenter.org.