Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Issue Is Not The Guns -- It Is The Mental Health

A very beautiful young lady was shot and killed by a known illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.  He stole the gun from a federal officer.  Nine beautiful people were killed by a lone white gunman they had welcomed into church.  He had purchased the gun, apparently legally, with birthday money.  Another young man had killed his mother and used her legally purchased guns to kill school children.  How in the heck could better gun controls have staved off these tragedies?  Police officers in several states shoot and kill people  --  most of them black, but some of them white.  Some deserved it; some did not.  Guns, if not common sense, come with their jobs.  But some don't bother with guns, they use choke holds.

It has been a hard spring and summer and we've "only just begun."  Of course, our more liberal politicos have shouted for better gun control over and over.  But they are wrong and their response is basically ineffectual.  And just how can this liberal Democrat be suggesting such a thing?  I'll try not to state the obvious clich√©, that guns don't kill people, people kill people, true though it is.

Our medical providers spend an awfully lot of time talking about preventive medicine, but you don't hear very many of them  --  or Congressmen  --  talking about preventive mental health provisions.  In fact, our insurance programs do not address much in the way of long-term medical care for the mentally ill.  And why might that be?  Because it would cost a lot of money which Congress would rather spend on guns to kill ISIS (or for Israelis to kill Palestinians) than to do serious work on our dysfunctional United States of America.  And what a model that is setting for our young.  You can't be allowed to use weapons to settle your problems, but look at how big our weapons are.

In the early eighties, at my grandmother's visitation, mothers of some of my high school classmates were in attendance.  We all played catch up about their children and compared life notes.  One particular mother asked question after question.  Her daughter was divorced, as was I.  We had left the home state.  We had gone away to school, etc.  At some point she zeroed in  -  well, did I do anything besides being a divorced mother?  I laughed and responded that I was a school psychologist at the time.  In words my mother might have used to describe her response  --  that flew all over her.  Her daughter had not succeeded any more highly than I had, I guess.  It wasn't the first time I had been on the receiving end of that family's excessive competitiveness, and I felt the collective sting.  It brings to mind the "cheerleader mother" who had her daughter's competition killed.  This is definitely not healthy competition.  This teaches hate and subterfuge and spite, not a healthy way to strive for success. 

Some mothers are such "Tiger Moms" that they cheat their children out of the joy of their youth by programing every living, breathing, waking second of their children's lives with lessons, practices and even my least favorite, sports.  (And aren't sports a source of unhealthy competition and poor role models with all the cheating and drug use?)

These mothers  --  and a good share of father's --  want to live vicariously through these poor kids and they play a more academic version of the game "mine is longer than yours."  Even the parents that succeeded themselves, just must have bragging rights.  Once again, not a healthy approach to competition, much less a precursor to a healthy lifestyle.

But the quiet, withdrawn kids don't have that much easier a life.  A friend of mine, a college student, called her nephew's school last year and asked for his teacher's help because he was failing science and math.  The teacher's response?  Why he just sits there quietly and never says a word.  She couldn't tell from his test scores that he was drowning?  What did he have to do to get the ding dong's attention?  Carry a gun to school?  Oh, that's right.  We parents are supposed to do the teaching at home while commuting from work, picking up kids at three schools, getting one to soccer and another to play practice.  Then, we continue the teaching while we cook dinner and prepare the clothes for the next day.  Like we are all gifted mathematicians ourselves and understand the homework!!!!

Bully behavior has recently received  a lot of noise because victims of bullying have returned to school to exact revenge on kids who abused them and teaching staff that did little or nothing to stop it.  I recall an interview with one teacher who seemed to encourage the bullying and maybe even participated in it.

When my children, even I, entered school, teachers knew that they needed to teach us socialization skills.  We were graded on progress in these steps just the same as we were in reading and math skills.

Once upon a time we grew up in small towns and cities.  There might have been a handful of wealthy individuals, but they seemed to cluster in the same areas of town and go to the same schools.  A good teacher could detect the needs of individual students, look for signs of abuse and neglect, encourage the timid, and just plain foster individual growth and development.

Now we are victims of overcrowding.  Many of our families are dysfunctional due to alcohol or drugs.  Some parents waste their resources on gambling and infidelities.  Some children are battered, and some parents know how to make sure the clothes hide the marks of abuse.

We come from all kinds of families, religions, creeds, races, and are placed in little bitty rooms and told to "get along" while our parents are out at home and work complaining about prayer at school, pledging our flag, which white dude offended us, which police officer is a good cop and which wears his badge like a permit to bully others  --  even people of their own race.

Yes, there are such officers!  A neighbor was stopped over a defective tail light in a small town to our north.  Their grocery store advertises in our weekly grocery supplement.  The officer asked her what she was doing up in his city anyway and suggested she shop at home next time. I wonder how the businessmen would like that one.

Another individual had been to yet another small city, where he had grown up.  While walking back to his new home in a larger city, a police officer offered him a ride.  When he got to the drop off point, he told the young man not to return to his city, even though he had done nothing wrong while there.

We are crammed together like sardines.  We are placed together whether we have a thing in common, sometimes including language.  We are told to get along with each other.  We are largely ignored unless we make a ruckus in the classroom or are future valedictorians.  Our parents expect us to succeed at everything from soup to nuts, whether we have the aptitude for it or not.  The ones of us who take it seriously, try our level best.  And then some of the parents look at a B + and say that should be an A.  Get it up next time.

I had a very disgusting classmate in college.  She became a basket case before every single test.  She was just sure she was going to fail every time.  And yet, I don't think she ever made less than an A.  It was years later that I realized she may not have been just whining.  Her fears were probably quite genuine, yet she never failed, but never understood she was a success.

We are probably never going to completely eliminate bullying at home . . . or at school . . . or in our communities.  We are probably never going to completely eliminate violence. But, rest assured, if this country doesn't invest a lot more money in researching mental health issues and providing both preventive and remedial interventions to foster good mental health, we are going to see more and more violence even if we eliminate every gun in the world.  There are fists.  There are knives.  There are bombs.  There are vehicles.  There are sticks.  There are stones.  There are hurtful and harmful words from our mouths.

Violence like we have seen in abundance for several years is a mental health issue not a gun issue.  If the government got the ten best shrinks and an equal number of great psychologists together (and I do not mean Dr. Phil's) and put them in a think tank, they would be hard pressed to develop a comprehensive plan to foster good mental health from cradle to grave.  But, if they don't, this dysfunction of ours is going to get worse and worse.  The gun controls we have in place now are not effective.  But gun control is not the answer because guns are not the problem.

Let me repeat.  All this violence is a mental health issue not a gun issue.  The guns are simply one small symptom of a major disease.

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