By Amani Carson.
In the face of danger you instinctively have two options – fight or flee. During this time, you are excused from conducting high-level rational thought; however, once the immediate danger has passed, and the shock has dissipated, you better start thinking about why whatever happened occurred and how you are going to prevent it from happening again. You might not be so lucky next time.
In other words, it is understandable that during the emotionally charged aftermath of the Newtown and Fort Hood Shootings, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the other mass murder tragedies of the 21st century, policymakers forwent rational thought and jumped straight to an ardent legislative battle over gun control. The gun control debate, however, barely brushes the surface of the violence in America, as it focuses on the guns not the people. This is not to say that guns are not potentially dangerous instruments, but rather instruments are all they are, tools someone has to manipulate to achieve a particular end. A genuine effort to combat violence in the United States would require a long, hard look at the person pulling the trigger.
Researchers have found that rates of mental illness – particularly personality disorders, which tend to be extremely complex and challenging to treat – are high among serious offenders. Alarmingly, the results of recent studies have boldly underscored the claim that the millennial generation is unprecedentedly narcissistic, concluding that not only is narcissism – a clinically recognized personality disorder – on the rise, but all personality disorders, including psychopathy, which predispose people to be emotionally unstable, conflict-prone and sometimes violent.
If the horrific mass violence of the last decade is anything to go by, America needs a new game plan. Since the population inclined to perpetrate serious crime is on the rise, the nation does not have months and months to bicker about gun control. It is only a matter of time before another community is devastated by death and destruction. Whether it occurred to lawmakers or not that at some point they would be required to stop crying and start trying, it is no longer feasible for legislators to simply react to devastating atrocities. Now, it is time for the government to take a proactive approach to preventing them.
Unfortunately, unlike the measles, mumps, and chicken pox, mental illnesses are not quick fixes. Very few disorders can be cured by popping a pill or undergoing a procedure; most require long-term commitment. On the other hand, many of these conditions make themselves known in childhood and adolescence before they blow out of proportion. Hence, there is time to employ preventative measures.
Although it will take a lot more than a vaccination to protect people from mental disorders, there are measures, which can reduce the chances of the mentally ill falling off of the law-abiding bandwagon. For example, childcare providers and early education teachers should regularly contact parents about the children’s behaviors and developmental progress. In order to support children who are developmentally behind or socially inept, the government should make child psychiatrists just as accessible as other primary care pediatricians by incentivizing doctors to take insurance. This is important since many families, especially those with at-risk youth, cannot afford to pay for psychotherapy out of pocket. Additionally, policymakers should ensure that public schools have enough money to sustain special education programs, as well as physical education and arts classes. These courses have proven to be particularly important for successful cognitive and social development among children with mental disorders. Overall, support for the mentally ill ought not to be a luxury for the wealthy or a pill for the poor, but a requirement dictated by concerns of public health.
Consequently, if lawmakers are truly interested in curbing violence in the United States, they are going to have to stop reeling from the last mass murder, come off of their adrenaline high, and face the problem for what it is: the intertwining of public health and safety. Total peace is unrealistic, but putting a couple of years between now and the next Fort Hood is a cause worth fighting for.