This morning my stomach is sick with sadness and worry. I am counting the moments until my own three kids burst through the door after spending the night with their grandparents. I am lucky.
Dozens of parents in Connecticut today will not see their babies laugh or cry ever again. Babies…5, 6, 7 year olds. Murdered in cold blood by a 20-year-old young man with a gun.
Arguments are flying about gun control, school security, and allowing God back in our schools. But, the real travesty, I think, is our country’s woefully inadequate support of the mentally ill. Gun laws or not, bullet proof glass or not, prayer or not, the sad fact is that no mentally sound person would commit such a heinous act.
And, none are more guilty of doing a terrible job with these patients than doctors just like me. Why? Because it is hard. Very hard. Mentally ill patients can be the most time-consuming, non-compliant, and under/uninsured of our society. So, they get left behind. Then, when they commit a horrific act, we talk for a second but in reality do nothing….till the next time.
First, we must be better at identifying mental illness EARLY. School psychologists, parents, teachers need to be better able to share concerns and information in the hopes of preventing illnesses from going underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Second, our 18-20 somethings are lost. In my practice, the numbers of college age kids that are depressed, anxious, suicidal, drug addicted, or dropping out of school are staggering. Something is happening in this generation that we need to understand better. A good friend and social worker explained to me last night that “reality is hitting these kids in the face.” Some have no skills. Some have ambitions they can’t monetize. Some are in the wrong crowd. Many make bad decisions. Most don’t seek help and the ones that do don’t get enough. All of them were once the age of these innocent kids that were murdered yesterday.
Third, there is a difference between boys and girls. I may be criticized for this but it needs to be said. Doesn’t it seem that almost every senseless mass murder in a school is committed by a young man? Why? What are we doing to our sons? Or, what are we not doing? I am analyzing every step of my life with my son this morning. Is he going to resent me for always nagging him to put on pants? Am I babying him too much? If he doesn’t have a job should I support him or kick him out? Why, on the other hand, do girls turn their hurt inwards? They become promiscuous and anorexic and anxious but rarely do we read about them turning a gun on a room of school kids. What is it that girls have in their nature that boys don’t. Can we use these differences to learn about the psyche of a murderer?
Certainly, not every young adult I mention above is capable of such an act. But, take a lost 20-year-old young man with a undertreated mental illness, give him easy access to a gun and suddenly the tragedy is in our face.
In 2006, nearly $60 billion dollars were spent on mental health conditions. Over 10% of our population over age 6 is or has been on antidepressant. So, we are spending the money. We are prescribing the drugs but something is WRONG. The money is not going where it should. The drugs are not right or enough or being given to the right patients.
Until we (doctors, researchers, counselors, and psychologists) figure out that missing piece, there will be more mornings like today where we, as a nation, are just heart-sick.
Are you a 20-year-old struggling? Do you know someone who is? Are you a grieving parent? Do you have a thought about any of the above? Please share.