What if we created a culture that aimed high: toward mental health, toward safety? 

What if we, united as Americans, worked harder than ever before to create a culture that looked at our troubled young people (and men in particular) as well as the evidence about when most of that trouble begins?  What if we acknowledged the answer to this question, also reflected in the age-old truism that “An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure”—and then structured our economic system to target schools as the focus of mental health services?

After twenty years of social work, I am not naïve enough to think that there is “one panacea” (as one congressman said on the news today) to our gun violence problem. I’m not even addressing the assault weapon issue in this blog…not yet, anyway.

Today I am referring to the fact that the young adults who were also disturbed as children; the young adults who also are at the age that is likely to see the onset of mental illness IF mental illness is going to occur; the young adults who as children set off alarm bells in teachers, parents, or the community—these kids should receive mental health services and they should receive them early, IF WE WANT A HEALTHY AND SAFE CIVILIZATION TO LIVE IN. 

Mental health services are no magic panacea either, of course.  Nor are schools the do-all, be-all place for solutions to life.  But let’s face it, schools are normalizing.  Folks who dread therapists will permit their kids to be assessed at school.  Kids who don’t know about mental health services, or don’t care, or don’t like the attention, or whose families can’t afford services, will still be assessed, and perhaps reached through trained staff.

Back to my question.

I do know that providing such services for free in our school systems costs money, a lot of it.  However, in NOT doing it, this price just goes up and up and up—human, financial, and otherwise.  There is no price worth saving our children, in my opinion.    

So: What if our elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools conducted respected risk assessments?  What if the odd or unhappy or remote or abused or bullied or aggressive child received help right away?  What if school social workers or counselors or psychologists had a small caseload, like ten or twenty children, to follow?  What if, in the often-turbulent years of adolescence, high schools provided a mentor for each kid—and maybe even a “big brother” on campus, which would provide a positive learning experience for the big brother as well?

Expensive.  Yikes, I can already see the dollar signs and hear the roar of protest. 

Still.   We CAN reach more disturbed kids than we currently do. 

Can we reach all of them?  No, I don’t think perfection is possible.  BUT ISN’T ONE CHILD’S LIFE WORTH THE EFFORT OF TRYING?

In San Diego I was hired as a school social worker in the blitz of such jobs after the El Cajon High School shooting in 2001.  Five years later, after all the brouhaha settled down and budgets got cut (for more social workers / counselors than administrators, I couldn’t help but notice), four of five of our school social workers were laid off.  Not needed?  No.  Not paid for.  Not valued, though those social workers were very much valued by the individual principals and teachers—and parents.

I have a different job now, one I enjoy very much, one in which I see the addict / parolee adults who were once children who slipped through the cracks, as we commonly say.  So I am not writing any of this to increase employment opportunities. 

Once more, the question: What if we decided to reprioritize our moneys and prevent school / theatre / mall, etc. shootings by finding and serving those disturbed kids early, as much as humanly possible?

Just askin’…


Iceburgh December 17, 2012 @11:46 pm

I got lucky. My anger issues were identified fairly early, when it mattered. When I felt that hot surge, all I had to do was tell the teacher and go to the counselor. I was treated like I was doing the right thing by removing myself from my trigger and giving myself the space to regain my center. Sadly, events like Columbine, that could easily have been me. Maybe not firearms, but when someone snaps, they will find a way. I watched a segment of Bowling for Columbine, where Marilyn Manson was being interviewed, and I liked his response. The question was, "What would you say to those kids?" His answer was, "I wouldn't say anything. I'd listen to them." That was the main thing that kept me as a functional individual, and grow into a (mostly) functional adult.

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