#Enough! Mismanagement of Mental Health

Cartoon by Emma Hines.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased rifle and massacred 17 people. In Oct. 2017, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock carried out one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history killing 58 people and injuring over 500 others when he fired into crowds gathered at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. 

In 2016, 49 people were killed in an attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In 2012, Adam Lanza murdered 26 students and staff in a shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In 2007, 32 people lost their lives in the Virginia Tech massacre. Although the United States does not even account for five percent of the world’s population, we hold 31 percent of global mass shootings, according to research presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Nearly all schools have planned their response to school shootings; according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) nearly 90 percent of public schools have a written plan for responding to school shootings, while 70 percent drilled the students on that plan. However, we believe that more can be done to prevent this senseless violence. 

Our country is facing a mental health crisis and mass shootings are only one of its many consequences. We at The New Paltz Oracle believe that allocating more federal funds to mental health resources will not only make schools safer, but improve the quality of life for millions of suffering Americans.

Mental illness is highly stigmatized and blamed by politicians for issues ranging from poverty to violent crime, as seen in the Parkland shooting. However, mental illness is common and about a quarter of the population will face some sort of mental health issue in any given year.

Consequences of untreated mental illness include increasing decline in mental health, unexplained sensations of pain, chronic physical health problems, poverty, lack of job security, incarceration, victimization, trauma and suicide.

Stigma, shame, embarrassment and poverty all play a role in why an individual does not or is unable to seek treatment. We believe there is more that our federal government can and is obligated to do in aiding this population.

We have already seen 14 school shootings this year alone, one per week on average; since the Parkland shooting, every state has at least discussed gun control legislation. President Donald Trump is even creating a federal commission on school safety and ordering a review of the FBI tip line that failed to follow protocol and relay information about the threat of Cruz to their field office in Miami. 

The federal commission will be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who will study school violence and devise other policy recommendations. Additionally, Trump is promoting STOP School Violence, a bill dedicated to training for students, teachers and school officials to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early; the bill will be voted on next week.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed Florida’s school safety measure into law last week. This will hire more school resource officers, improve security in schools, increase waiting periods on shotgun and rifle purchases, grant more powers to police to seize weapons from people who are deemed dangerous and raise the age to legally purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. 

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida in light of the age raise, charging age discrimination infringement on the right to keep and bear arms. However, what is interesting about this same legislation is that it also designates an influx of cash for mental health services which is an initiative that many on both sides of the gun control debate support.

According to National Publc Radio (NPR), in today’s dollars, Florida is currently spending 40 percent less on mental health than it did in 2000. The state has increased funding for mental health services by $218 million in that time, but it has not been nearly enough to keep up with inflation and the 4.5 million people who have moved to Florida since.

After seeing three mass shootings in the past 20 months, this legislation will provide nearly $90 million more in funding for mental health resources, including $69 million specifically for schools.

Millions of students are suffering from mental illness with only a fraction getting the help that they need. According to The 74, a nonprofit news website dedicated to education issues in the United States, 62 percent of college students reported experiencing “overwhelming anxiety” in 2016, up 50 percent from just five years prior. Additionally, hospitalizations for mood disorders among children 17 and under jumped 68 percent between the years of 1997 and 2011.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also reported that 20 percent of all Americans are suffering from mental, behavioral or mood disorders and estimates show that almost half of these individuals do not receive medication or psychological services. Among the most common are ADHD, depression, conduct problems, autism, substance abuse and Tourette’s syndrome; Cruz had been diagnosed with and inadequately treated for both ADHD and depression in addition to exhibiting numerous behavioral red flags prior to the shooting on Feb. 14.

Since the onset of these problems are difficult to detect and millions of families lack health insurance, children must often rely on mental health resources provided by schools.

Right now, there is roughly one school psychologist for every 2,000 students in Florida; the National Association of School Psychologists recommends one per every 700 students. Across the country, the ratio was estimated to be nearly twice that.

Since teachers receive little training in dealing with mental health issues, funding to put more counselors in schools is imperative. Lawmakers stress that early detection is key to preventing violence in schools and training should be offered to help school employees identify mental illness.

The descent of the nation’s mental health is too dangerous to continue to ignore. We urge our federal government to honor those who have lost their lives to violence by aiding the tens of millions of living Americans suffering with mental illness each year.