Horrific events like last week's shootings shake us at our core, bring fear into our lives, and focus our thoughts on how precious and fleeting life truly is.  We ask ourselves why and seek answers so that we can prevent this from ever happening again. Unfortunately, these shootings are only the most recent in a string of violence and mass killings over the past 2 decades. The typical responses include that there are too many guns, or that there are too few guns, or that the mentally ill are dangerous, or that the mental health system is broken and severely underfunded.  Initially, there are calls for tighter gun control, looser gun control, and enhancing the mental health system. However, as we get further from each of these events, the energy and passion for prevention wanes, and we are then left with two highly polarized groups fighting over gun control sucking up all the airtime and energy for change. Ultimately little is done to prevent a further tragedy while improving the mental health system takes a back seat and is ultimately forgotten. We cannot afford the continued slow decline of mental health services in our state and in our country.

19 years ago the NHMS partnered with the New Hampshire Psychiatric Society and the New Hampshire Council on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in drafting and passing a policy statement to address Violence in America.  In retrospect the preamble reads as a scary prediction that has come to pass:

"The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports found a 3 percent increase in murders nationally, with homicides by juveniles as young as ages 14 and 15 on the rise. A “lull before the crime storm” is thought to be happening, because this age group has not yet reached 18 to 24 years of age--the age group that typically commits the majority of murders. Recent cases of domestic violence, nationally and within New Hampshire, have resulted in the deaths of innocent people. These cases highlight the need for discussion about ways to prevent violence."

Last week, I wrote about bolstering the mental health system in New Hampshire.  As we work towards that, we must also support activities that bring to life the NHMS policy on Violence:

  • We must protect children from sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
  • Fathers as well as Mothers should teach their teenage children about sexual respect.
  • Strongly discourage drug and alcohol abuse, particularly for young people.
  • Promote effective and comprehensive programs to help children overcome Learning Disabilities so that they are well educated and able to enter the work force and hold a job.
  • Parents, and society as a whole, should do everything possible to assure that all children get access to a good education.
  • Promote community programs that offer help to parents who are overwhelmed with the challenges of modern child-rearing.
  • Promote early intervention and diversion programs to steer young offenders away from crime, drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Promote equal access to psychiatric treatment for children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Take a firm stand against the unsupervised access of young people to handguns.
  • Limit television time and encourage creative activities.
  • Recognize that we are role models for young people.

So often we remember the shooter's name, where and when the events took place, but rarely do we remember the victims. I strongly encourage you to learn and remember the name of at least one of the victims and use their memory to work toward preventing the next tragedy.