Mental Health and Media Response Need Overhaul in Wake of Shooting
The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut has brought about a lot of familiar discussion especially around the 2nd Amendment and while that is certainly understandable given the scope of the tragedy. I was concerned with a few other issues and found myself increasingly irritated with both the media response and how this country handles mental health.
Once I learned that the shooter had Aspeger’s syndrome, a type of autism, it hit me that we need to overhaul how this country treats those who need mental help and how we provide it. Guns are going to be debated for awhile after this shooting and I’m a fan of stricter background checks especially those that dig deeper into mental history but that’s all of the input I care to make regarding firearms so soon after this tragedy. Mental health reform on the other hand likely won’t be discussed much at all.
Mental health has a pretty negative stereotype surrounding it meaning that anyone who seeks it is perceived to be insane or unstable when in reality all they need is our help. This stereotype only pushes those who actually require mental health services away from potentially lifesaving treatment because they are fully aware that people will presume that they are or were insane because they were committed to an institution of some kind. It is sad that someone who needs mental help would feel worse about going to someone and saying “I need help” than they would murdering someone. Grant it this isn’t always the case as there are truly insane people out there who can’t realize they need help but those around them are just as responsible because oftentimes they don’t want to label their friend, brother, mother or son as “crazy”. It is also equally impossible for those around an unstable individual to get them forcefully committed to an institution when the signs are written on the wall in bold and even in the cases where they do receive treatment it isn’t enough for long enough. The richest county in the worlds mental health care is a complete disgrace.
After some type of mass murder you typically always hear the reports from friends and family that the shooter was a troubled individual with either a bad childhood, a traumatic event or a mental disability. In this most recent case we have already heard that he was prone to temper tantrums as a child and was especially troubled by his parents’ divorce and on top of it all he had Aspeger’s. Questions should be asked like was he on medication, has he been committed before and why was this mentally challenged man aware of where his mother kept firearms? It is clear to me that there were signs of trouble long before he decided to murder his mother and 26 more people including 20 children because it takes a seriously disturbed person to murder children in such a violent way – in any way. If the signs were there then why did no one feel the need to take action and if they did take action why did the system fail us? All too often psychologists will submit reports to law enforcement regarding a fear of potential violence but since it is only a fear of potential violence the police are typically left powerless if they respond at all. If a trained medical professional feels a threat is serious enough then action should be taken immediately to assess the validity of that threat.
I can imagine a world without firearms and I can still see violence in that world but a world where there is a focus on ensuring the most deadly weapon of all, the brain, is kept in check then that is a world I could feel safe in. Of course that would require people to change not only the way they think about those who need mental health but how we treat people as a whole.
I like many of you found it hard to pull away from the TV screen yesterday as the news of so many children being slaughtered is hard to ignore but as the day continued I found the media to be sickening.
Tragedy’s are terrible to you and I but to news organizations they are ratings boosters and ratings equal more money and like any business they will squeeze every last drop from everything including a tragedy. This was evident as the shooting unfolded and we were hearing unsubstantiated rumors of two shooters, hundreds of shots fired, shooters in body armor, automatic weapons and varying casualty counts all before officials announced anything. This type of fear based reporting ensures that many will be misinformed well after the shooting and it also ensures increased visits to websites, TV channels and more. Each channel was scrambling to publish the next first thing and as a result they were publishing things that were completely untrue such as the shooters use of an “assault rifle” that he actually had left in the car.
Since they were in such a rush to get information they were also publishing witness statements and then sending them out as facts and you’d see them interviewing children who were inside the school who really should have been in the arms of their parents rather than in front of a camera. Their willingness to exploit children who had just made it out with their lives sickened me quite a bit. Frankly I don’t think anyone under 18 should be allowed to be interviewed on TV anyway but that’s for another day. These tragedies are terrible but the media response is terrible as well and this needs to be changed. Instead of rumors, misinformation and speculation we should only be given the facts especially when it is something as fluid and as horrible as an elementary school shooting. With as fast as information spreads these days thanks to the internet once a TV station or a host say’s something or publishes it, it will be spread around like a wildfire and when the dust finally settles and the facts come out the correction will barely be seen. The media is one of the most powerful influences in the United States and as a country we should force them to give it to us straight rather than keeping us watching only out of fear and hype.
I truly hope that if anything good can come out of this shooting it will be a serious discussion about mental health reform and if the media was actually forced to tame themselves then that would certainly be icing on the cake. I highly doubt that these things will take center stage in the coming days and weeks but these are the things that caught my attention and I hope you understand why I needed to write this post and I hope you will push for mental health reform as well if asked for your take on this horrible incident.
My thoughts are with the victims and their families and I hope that in time they are able to enjoy a normal life once again.
I’m linking this here because I found it to be an interesting read: