The recent school shooting in Highland Ranch, Colorado prompted the community there to gather in a vigil to recall the heroism of one student who perished tackling the shooter, another fellow student. At one point during the vigil, the assembly chanted “mental health” repeatedly, perhaps as a plea for additional mental health services to help address the ubiquitous gun violence that plagues our schools. Nationally, on a weekly basis, there is gun-related violence. Lives senselessly lost and trauma generated. These gun-related tragedies are so common that we no longer seem to be outraged, but rather acquiescent. Demoralized, we no longer cry out for gun control but rather seek additional security and mental health services to mitigate the inevitable tragedy that will touch all of us at some point.
The students that night in Highland Ranch chanted mental health, overwhelmed by a type of tragedy that seems to have no end and promises to escalate. Our children have been robbed of any sense of security; all of us live with the dread of receiving a call notifying us our child has been harmed or worse. This is the price we pay to maintain our constitutional right to bear arms.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental illness is the most undiagnosed ailment. Overlooked by many because of the stigma associated with it, mental illness is masked by coping strategies, lack of awareness, isolation, shame, limited availability of services, and often indifference. When treated, those suffering from mental illness can find their pain and sense of alienation eased, and can go on to lead a happy and full life. Treatment can keep those affected with mental illness from desperate acts and spare them and others from harm.
Dealing with mental illness can be overwhelming. For family, friends, and caregivers of those experiencing episodes of mental illness, the ease of access to firearms only adds to a sense of concern. Certainly, advocating for additional resources to increase access to mental health services is critical. Funding through the Mental Health Services Act has provided some needed services through our community-based programs. Soliciting for funding for mental health services in our schools would provide resources desperately needed for fiscally strained education systems.
Although advocating for additional mental health services is important, it does not address the fundamental issue of easy access to firearms. As tempted as we may be to acquiesce, we must not give up calling for reasonable gun control measures if we are serious about securing the safety of our schools and the well-being of our children.