Up until recently, news of devastating school shootings swerved to public fights about gun control. I had hoped past shootings would stimulate discussion of mental health treatment (see “Guns and Mental Illness: the Debate from a Parent’s Perspective,” written 5 years ago in 2013). After this recent shooting in Florida, it now is. But be careful what you wish for. Mental illness is on the radar, but the subject swerved off into mental illness as a significant lethal threat to the public. (I think this is compounded by a morbid fascination with psychopaths. The lurid TV series “Criminal Minds” plays to this–the entire plot line equates mental illness with psychopathy, torture, and murder.) Damn it.
Look at the raw numbers below. Shouldn’t the other deaths caused by children’s mental illness be on the table too?
Deaths by school shootings in elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S.:
2000-2018 – Deaths by school shootings: 110 children*
2000-2018 – Foiled attempts at school shootings: 19 schools*
Child deaths by suicide in the U.S.:
2014-2015 – Between the ages 10-24: 17,304**
2013 – Suicide by firearm between the ages 10-19: 876***
*(Wikipedia, based on contemporaneous news reports)
**National Institute for Mental Health (latest available numerical data)
***Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (latest available numerical data)
Effective advocacy for preventing suicide (via mental health treatment) requires effective ‘marketing.’
I wonder about the marketing aspect–the campaign that tells a gripping story that motivates others to act. Let’s compare: School shootings are public tragedies, with images of ambulances filmed from helicopters, and wrenching quotes from the anguished. But suicides happen alone; they are private self-inflicted tragedies. No helicopters, no candlelight vigils. People keep their distance. Money doesn’t pour in to support the victim’s family or increase the availability and use of treatment. And then there is this awful irony: if vulnerable children hear the news of a peer’s suicide, it risks suicide contagion.
Maybe the activism of the student survivors in Florida are symbolically opening a door.
Maybe there’s a way if victim’s families and friends are willing to tell their anguished stories, too. I don’t know how it feels to be you–my child made suicide attempts but didn’t succeed (insert deep sigh of gratitude here). How do you feel about telling your stories to cameras in a large group? Could you carry signs with photos of your precious lost ones? or bombard the Twitter-verse to get to the hearts of the public?
Be prepared for the next round of horror, and be prepared to go public.
Our mental health professionals have been warning the public and lawmakers about the magnitude of child suicide for years–the psychiatrists and psychologists and all the other caregivers. But they use facts, which don’t count in the public eye, whereas personal stories do.
Your comments are encouraged.