Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Tragedy in Newtown CN

Our hearts go out to the families of the dear children and their educators who were so brutally killed at the elementary school near Newtown CN last Friday. We can hardly imagine the pain they must deal with. Also our sympathies go to the first responders, who were traumatized by the events.
It is human to try to make sense of the event, to look for causes or messages or lessons. Ending the lives of first graders holds no meaning whatsoever. It is yet one step more vicious than a number of vicious mass murders which have occurred in recent decades.
Like our President, we want to look harder now for ways to prevent these events. And a number of ways have been mentioned. I would like to discuss the most prominent.
First, is the recurring and contentious theme of gun violence and gun control. Why, in what we consider the most advanced nation in the world and in a time of peace, do we lead the world in killings with guns, so many more than in other advanced countries and even more than less advanced countries? I hope there will be a serious reconsideration of appropriate gun control policy at the city, state, and federal levels to help keep mass-killing weapons out of the hands of those likely to misuse them. It has been noted however that these events have increased even during a time when gun controls have increased.
And this takes us to the second discussion, about how to help those who have mental problems serious enough to drive them to suicide or homicide or both. We as a nation are very poor at finding out who might be in such a mental state. We could point to a lack of professionals and accurate diagnosticians who might be able to help a family dealing with a young person who is showing signs of being unable to deal with people in safe, consistent ways.
But even more important I think is the breakdown of community and the breakdown of the core family group. It is the adults immediately surrounding a child who are the models and stimulus to a young child.  And too many parents are more absent than on the scene. Likewise, our schools are generally too understaffed and over-burdened to recognize and help those children who avoid or resist the norms of behavior.
The fact is that more and more parents lack the time, money, knowledge, and support to meet the real needs of their children. There just is not enough parenting going on. It is not only parenting quality that is at stake but "parenting quantity." That is, time spent with the child, from day one to year twenty-one.
Research is showing that many youngsters today, in ever increasing numbers, are just not getting the necessary sequence of interpersonal and other stimulants and environmental factors to get normal brain development. But of course most of such children never turn to extreme violence.
This leads to a third discussion which rarely gets mentioned but may be at the heart of these extreme violent acts, Most of the perpetrators in these horrific incidents are on some kind of psychotropic drug. The stupendous growth in the use of these drugs over the last several decades coincides with the growth in the frequency of these incomprehensible acts of violence. 
Even the ads on TV list suicidal or violent tendencies as possible side effects for many of these mind and mood altering medications. They wouldn't have to mention these dangerous effects unless the drug researchers had seen them in their studies. Yet people continue to ask for these drugs and physicians seldom monitor people's thought patterns once they are taking the prescriptions.
Experts have noted that many of these drugs work by stimulating patients to become more active, which looks like they are becoming more functional, but on the down side, by stimulating them into action, the drugs also make it easier for them to carry out their more desperate feelings. For example, a patient who might otherwise be troubled by suicidal thoughts may be more prone to take action on them. After many if not most of these horrible shootings we learn that the shooter was on some kind of psychotropic medication. We seldom learn which one without major sleuthing.
The last area I want to look at is the media. Our 24/7 live coverage of these incidents obviously has the potential to give people who are already feeling the kinds of feelings that lead to violence against self or others new ideas about how and why to commit these crimes. Gun specialists have predicted a rise in sales of the rifle the shooter used in Newtown, ostensibly for self-protection against someone else who already has one or in order to get it before it is outlawed in reaction to the Newtown massacre. For these reasons, some have suggested that law enforcement try not to give so many details about these tragic events. But it seems unlikely that such information can be kept secret.
Another influence of the media which I think we need to look at is the constant barrage of advertisements which imply that if you are feeling bad for any reason, a pill will fix it. Depressed? Anxious? Grieving? Feeling disconnected? Shy? Nervous? Anti-social? Disoriented? They have a pill for you. But few studies have been done to find out if these medications really work for any length of time or in what proportion of patients their mental effects are detrimental.  .
Meanwhile, these drugs cover up symptoms which otherwise might lead a person to get real help, from someone professional, religious, or simply supportive, to help them through a difficult junction in their life, a period of mourning, a time of confusion, anger, or despair, and so on.
A number of doctors have come forward to complain that it is wrong to cover up relatively normal reactions to life by overmedicating. It is no wonder then that some people's troubles reach fever pitch and drive them to do horrific things.
In a nation of over 300 million people, we are bound to have some very deranged people. But they are a tiny minority. Yet it is said that over 100 million Americans are currently taking a medication which alters their mind or moods. It is likely that when a troubled person, a drug reaction, and a gun come together we have a problem. It is probably a case of the perfect storm.
What we see in so many cases is this perfect storm: A person who has not had their developmental or emotional needs met and who has not been able to get appropriate help gets on a medication which changes their anger and depression into actionable rage and gets access to a weapon of massive destructive power. 
All these factors need to be addressed in a civil society which cares about the safety and quality of life of its citizens and about the future of its children..

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