The students from Parkland, Florida are giving lessons to the grown-ups in our country about activism and how to affect change. They jumped on buses today to go to Tallahassee to engage legislators on the issue of gun control. Their speeches over the weekend at protests were passionate and spontaneous, not read from teleprompters but straight from their hearts. Their sit-down meeting with President Trump and his administration showed their maturity and pain. Parents of other kids killed in senseless school shootings since Columbine spoke and added to the poignancy of the moment.
The country’s heart is aching about the loss of 17 souls whose lives were cut so short by a young man whose anger and access to guns gave him the power to shower them with bullets.
I feel optimistic knowing that high school students are so motivated to actually lobby, protest and handle media interviews to express their views on how to stop the violence.
A two-page ad in today’s New York Times encourages people to call out legislators who receive money from NRA and to demand gun control changes, with the threat of voting them out of office if they don’t. They are getting big pockets to contribute to their political activism.
One thing that I would encourage, however, is to not forget how important mental health services are in dealing with these issues as well. The school should have had better oversight of this disturbed young man, not just expel him from the school. There needs to be a safety net so someone with violent tendencies is managed psychologically with trained professionals.
Meanwhile, Florida ranks #49 in the country in mental health services. Many public hospitals don’t take people without insurance unless they go to the Emergency Room. Others need to make appointments months in advance.
If mental health was treated like any other disease, patients would be seen in a timely fashion and doctors would have enough time to truly diagnose a person and launch an appropriate regimen for care. There’s a tremendous shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and school psychologists throughout the state –and the government doesn’t want to assist financially. Private foundations and wealthy individuals need to step up to the plate for preventive care of potentially violent individuals. Celebrities should support reducing the stigma of mental illness and funding of more facilities specifically to treat people with addiction and mental illness. Schools should be better educated about dangerous warning signs of young people that should be reported. It takes more than a village to prevent another school shooting. It takes a cohesive strategy which includes cooperation among schools, parents, law enforcement, doctors and therapists.
Nothing will bring back the lives of those who died at the hands of this sick young man. But to prevent future tragedies, we need to work together.