There have been more than 60 school shootings since the Sandy Hook attack in 2012, according to a recent analysis.
Since the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting, the Educators School Safety Network has recorded an increase in school-based violent threats across the nation: 50 threats per day on average.
In the 2017-18 school year, there have been violent incidents or threats in 48 states to date.
As we reflect on these devastating statistics, the obvious question on our minds is: What could have been done to prevent these tragedies, and what should be done going forward?
Over the past few months, it’s been impossible to try to navigate the news and social media without a bombardment of finger-pointing on all sides, and speculation as to what to do next. The gun control vs. mental health debate is wide open yet again, and once more we all have questions that remainunanswered.
Is this what mental illness looks like?
What if we flagged certain individuals from ever being able to get their hands on a gun?
Could the school have done anything else to prevent this tragedy? What is the best way support the grieving and traumatized survivors after the helicopters and media leave town?
In my experience, both on a personal level (I lost my brother to suicide) and as a mental health professional, I’ve witnessed time and time again that the right amount of insight and education, combined with the right amount of consistent action, can begin a remarkable transformation process that helps individuals live up to their potential.
Not only is the process attainable, but it should be easily accessible for every individual, especially our youth.
These individuals were not given the tools to live up to their potential. The individuals that reach this extreme level on the mental illness spectrum tend to share a feeling of isolation, extreme frustration and anger, an overpowering sense of hopelessness, and the belief that they are unable to have control in the outcome of their future.
Isolation comes from the lack of “feeling” connected. Many of these individuals had friends, parents that cared for them, and access to support. However, they tend to lack a shared language of how to connect — how to share what one is experiencing and on the other side, how to listen with a tuned ear the sense of pain that the individual is living with.
This pain can be real or it can be perceived; either way the pain is real for the individual and coping with that pain ultimately will transfer into behaviors that will affect their relationships with the outside world.
My fear is that people see an individual that has gone to an extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to mental illness and they point a finger and say, “that’s what mental illness looks like.”
That is wrong. This is not the face of mental illness, and putting this face on a much larger issue will ultimately lead to more people dying.
So the question that we have yet to ask is this: What would it look like if our nation’s youth had a shared language and understanding of tools and techniques to understand themselves and their life circumstances better?
What if we started to implement social and emotional learning programs into every school immediately?
It’s been scientifically proven that it would look something like this:
Unfortunately, many schools administrators have opposed the idea of social emotional learning, believing them to take up too much time. In other words, they’re “too costly.”
But the cost of avoiding the issues we continue to sweep under the rug are much more dire. According to the CDC:
Behavioral health issues (accidents, suicide, and homicide) are the top three leading causes of death for individuals ages 10-24, causing six times more deaths in this age group than the next seven causes of death combined.
Would a ban on guns have stopped the shooter in Parkland from taking his anger and isolation out on innocent people? Probably not. Could more be done in regard to gun control? Of course.
The bottom line is that in order to start resolving these problems, it’s imperative that we start to equip kids with the right tools so they can be better prepared to lead in the future.
Because as of this point, the individuals who have the floor — whether they are pro-gun, pro-gun control or pro-mental health reform — are all missing an opportunity for our kids to improve their ability to feel safe and feel connected, and we risk raising a generation feeling frightful of the future that we will hand to them.
Ryan G. Beale is the Founder & CEO of TherapyLive, which started Prepare U. Prepare U is a multi-faceted experiential social emotional curriculum, developed by the Therapy Live team and endorsed by leading psychologists, including the president of American Psychological Association’s Society for Media Psychology and Technology.
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