Mental Health Treatment and Mass Shootings

After each mass shooting in the United States, there are calls for increased gun control, better access to mental health services, or both. Fuelled by emotion, we seek solutions; I have been right in there, too, simultaneously grieving those lost and asking for system changes to prevent reoccurrences.

A bit ago, I came across an article which hypothesized that improved mental health treatment won’t impact mass shootings or school killings. The author, Dr. John M. Grohol, founder of website, focuses on school shootings in this piece, and posits that what will help most is restricted access to household guns, and more involved parenting.

Two pieces of a puzzleWhen I re-read this piece today, I pondered whether I agreed or not (and then I veered off to something about the Paul Simon and Edie Brickell arrests for disorderly conduct, and then I saw a Jennifer Aniston story that I just had to read—love her—and then I came back to this mental health piece. And so it goes. Sometimes it helps to break the tough topics into bite-size pieces.).

Like I said, I’ve let my emotions lead me into the debate before. After Sandy Hook, I was annoyed that some people focused on gun control, when for me, the shooter so clearly needed mental health services. “That’s what it’s about,” I said, “because a person with a mental illness can always find a weapon.” Then I read a comment on Dr. Grohol’s piece, which reminded me how complicated each and every case is. The commenter wrote:

I love how everyone thinks they have the answer to this problem. Intellectual humility seems to be in limited supply. “It’s the drugs,” “it’s mental illness,” “it’s the provision of inadequate services.” There are so many imponderables involved in human behavior, our point of departure for any enquiry into its determinants… …should be both skepticism and an acknowledgment of the limitations of human understanding.

As humans, we’re very good at pointing a finger and assigning blame. It deflects our own icky feelings. However, those getting pointed at and blamed feel shame, and shaming someone gets us nowhere.

So, can we do any better than we are now to prevent them? Yes, I still believe we can.

For starters, I agree with Dr. Grohol – locking down guns in a household is common sense. As for parenting, well, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve seen troubled parents turn out well-adjusted kids, and vice versa, but I agree with his assertion in principle.

But kids grow up and move out. Then what?

Hand Over Hand I don’t want to oversimplify, but for treatment of both kids and adults with severe mental health issues, doesn’t a lot of it come down to communication and collaboration? Parents and doctors and lawmakers and community health nurses and hospital psychiatry teams and teachers and the child/adult in question all working together? Long-term relationships, not revolving-door appointments. Courage. People who aren’t afraid to talk, to question, and to course correct. To have some intellectual humility, rally all of our resources and push the limits of our human understanding. Or, rather, our understanding of one human.

What are your thoughts and practical considerations?

P.s. Here’s a story about parents of a son who had bi-polar depression, and who was killed by Seattle police. They’re lobbying for a bill that allows family members to request a judicial review if emergency in-patient psychiatric treatment has been denied to their loved one with a mental illness. I support this, because it’s another avenue for conversation and collaboration between parties, as opposed to decisions made in a vacuum, often due to cost or expediency.


  1. says

    Locking down guns in a household is common sense, but only to people who feel the need to lock guns up. When a threat was called in to the school I used to work at, the police from the next town over were called in. They asked the principal which families most likely had access to guns. The response: Most of them. For some reason, a huge portion of our population feels the right to bear arms is akin to the right to breath air. How to start changing that mindset is beyond me.
    Jeri recently posted…#WriteTip: The Myth of the Boring Topic & Finding the QuestionsMy Profile

    • Laura Zera says

      Interesting to hear that coming from an American, Jeri. As a Canadian, I’ve always had a hard time understanding the gun culture down here; it’s so non-existent in Canada (and most other countries in the world). It’s fascinating to me that the Second Amendment has evolved into the gun culture that we see today. And as to how to change that mindset, I’m thinking it’d be near impossible. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. says

    Laura, my first thought from reading your commentary was, why do we always focus on the individual as if we’re looking through a window at the other people (person) who has the problem rather than a whole society that is becoming unglued. Reflecting on the Middle East and my time there, I distinctly remember a British traveling companion who convinced me, whole groups of people could be mentally ill; his reference was Baghdad. Jeff used to repeat every time he found the opportunity, they are all nuts. I’d say, “come on, how can you call a whole group of people crazy; that’s being prejudiced.” He’d say, go there, you’ll find out. Again, I think it is a matter of which window you are looking through and what your society projects. Yes, there is mental illness. No question. But there is a lot of room for how we define it. To me, living in a gun culture is crazy. Guns are for killing. And I’m not for that!
    Ken Kailing recently posted…Food Insecurity, Food Sovereignty, and Food FreedomMy Profile

    • Laura Zera says

      Yes, Ken, I see what you’re saying and agree, there is the 30,000 foot view, too (here’s another one: why are sociopaths running Wall Street?).

      In this post, the attention on the individual is indicative of the need to include that individual in a consistent, collaborative dialogue. If we think we can change a few laws and still shove people in and out of hospitals, and on and off of medications, then people will continue to fall through the cracks. Now, having said that, I have heard from some therapists that have said they had clients who committed acts of violence, and they never would have predicted it. So being close to a person isn’t always going to help, but the more “connected” we can be with ourselves, our community and our care teams, the better.

  3. Kris McCann says

    Laura. your solution of collaboration and long term relationships sounds great. However, that cost money. And money is not something people want to spend. We can’t even fix the easy stuff: like schools, infrastructure Instead, some in our government want to provide even more tax breaks to those who do not need another freaking tax break.

    And the guns…. I don’t get that either. I was just reading that the ATF, are so restricted they can’t do their job correctly. I’ve heard the politicians who do the NRA’s bidding have chipped away at ATF powers. Campaign Finance Reform is partly the answer to a lot of problems, IMHO. If those elected to office were able to vote their conscience rather than vote to benefit those that pay for their campaigns, I think this country would be a lot better off. The NRA holds way too much power over elected officials. Maybe another solution would be for someone powerful in the NRA to lose a loved one to gun violence. Then they would understand and might change their thinking. You’d think after the President of the US (Reagan), a US Congresswoman, and bunch of innocent kids get shot, something would be done.

    I love the pro gun argument “I need a gun to defend myself against the government.” Really? Your guns are going to defend you against a nuclear weapon, missles, aircraft carriers, an army, drones, etc?

    Alright.. I will shut up now. ;)

    • Laura Zera says

      No, don’t shut up! You make very good points. I totally agree that campaign finance rules are waaaaaaay out of balance, and getting worse instead of better. I think one of the limits was just struck down in the Supreme Court? The courts come up with some laughable definitions of what’s “unconstitutional.” And it burns my butt that the Supreme Court justices are so partisan in their decisions.

  4. says

    This is a thoughtful post with equally thoughtful comments. As with most multi-faceted problems, this one requires multi-faceted solutions. I wonder where the leverage lies–the one element, that if changed, would trigger domino changes in the rest of the system? In the U.S., I doubt it’ll be gun control or getting everyone to lock their guns. I don’t have the answer but it’s important to ask the question and to have dialogues about this issue to get closer to possible answers. Multi-stakeholder collaborative dialogues involving representatives from schools, mental health, government, parents and so on. Glad you have this blog, Laura, to trigger this sort of thinking.

    • Laura Zera says

      Also required: facilitators like yourself! So glad you’re here to guide these types of multi-stakeholder dialogues.

      Sometimes it feels like all we do is talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk. And nothing happens. But yet, we see bad decisions being made and implemented because stakeholders were missing from the conversation. So I guess what I’m saying is that we just have to keep trying to get the right people to the table, because if we don’t get them involved, we really fall short.

  5. says

    This is an important topic. I love how you piece it down to blame. When we can’t make sense of things, we go right to blame. I don’t think we can prevent all violence. We just do our part everyday, being the best we can, softening some people, knowing that violence can and will still happen, so never leave angry, always say “I love you.” You know I don’t mean do nothing. But all we can do is what we can do. Make changes systemically and personally but also know it will still happen.

    P.S. I found myself wanting to read the Jennifer Anniston article.
    Jodi from Heal Now and Forever recently posted…How do I get off my anti-depressants?My Profile

    • Laura Zera says

      I love your wisdom, Jodi. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets pulled off into brain-candy land sometimes. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge