After dozens of mass shooting in the U.S., I hope we are ready for change. Unfortunately there is no easy solution nor will any one solution stop all shootings.
Some issues that contribute to most mass shootings:
• Most people are unlikely to recognize mental illness, much less determine if someone needs help and know what to do.
• When a family is in crisis because someone needs but refuses treatment, most mental health professionals state that they are unable to intervene, unless the client is currently dangerous to self or others.
• Society and our environment influences behaviors, especially for those most vulnerable, whether children or adults. Our video games, TV, movies and related activities have become very violent in nature. Violence is heavily reported and given prominent attention in the media on a daily basis. This leads to more violence with at least some people.
• Access to weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable people is a recipe for disaster.
The above allow and/or hasten many people to deteriorate, with great cost to society, and sometimes with violence, either against self or others.
What can we do to help prevent these tragedies in the future?
1.We can train the public to recognize and respond to mental illness. Programs like “Mental Health First Aid” exist in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Mental Health First Aid teaches the public how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, how to offer help and how to guide a person to appropriate help. These programs are ideal for police, firefighters, school staff, hospital personnel and many others. Call Beth at 913-328-4633 for more information.
2.When someone refuses treatment, but clearly needs it, mental health providers usually will not treat involuntarily unless the person presents documented evidence of being currently suicidal or homicidal.
However, there are other options that allow intervention:
While forcing services on those who do not want treatment protects civil liberties for the person with mental illness, it is too limiting and does not protect people they encounter. Changes should be made to allow a broader interpretation of danger, while still protecting individual rights. This may require a law change or at least a change in interpretation by local judges
Another approach is assertive outreach and engagement. Many people who need mental health care initially refuse and deny the need for help. A successful approach is to send outreach workers to visit a mentally ill person in their home on a continuing basis, until the person eventually agrees to additional services. In most cases, once rapport is established, the person agrees to services. This approach would require changes in how mental health providers are funded, to allow payment for outreach
Mass shooters are usually struggling with mental health problems and want to die. There is also a deep sense of victimization and that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has persecuted him. Another factor is the desire to acquire fame and glory through mass killings. Approaches such as forced treatment or assertive outreach are likely to catch some of these before they happen.
3 .Access to weapons by the mentally ill is being discussed, most frequently suggesting that such access should be prevented. We will never stop people from finding a weapon if they want one. We could slow the slaughter if we limited weapons of mass destruction from all people.
While the mass shootings are horrible, fortunately most people with a mental illness are not dangerous. People with autism are not inherently dangerous either. It is the rare, sensational cases that get media attention.
Contact ReDiscover at 816-966-0900 or other mental health providers if you know of someone who needs help due to mental illness.
Unfortunately mental health resources are not provided enough funding. We should not accept that people cannot receive treatment when they need it. We can make a difference. If we do not act, there will be many more victims, most of whom are the mentally ill.
Alan Flory has 39 years experience in the mental health field and is a Lee’s Summit resident.