15 Mar Malekoff: Our children under attack
It wasn’t necessary for the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook to validate that there is evil in the world. But what it did affirm is that if the massacre of six- and seven-year-old children is not off limits, then nothing is.
Now there is Parkland.
In the last 40 years, the United States has mourned scores of mass murders. A number of the locales where these shootings took place were schools – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Parkland – that have become iconic markers of epidemic violence.
And mass shootings are not only happening in the U.S. In 1996, 16 kindergarten children and their teacher were murdered by a lone gunman in Dunblane, Scotland. Still, those are unusual occurrences in other countries, whereas we have had more than a dozen school shootings since the beginning of this year alone.
After “thoughts and prayers” are paraded around by politicians from all sides, what happens next? Many gun rights advocates, refusing to allow for the fact that our forefathers were talking about the right to bear arms such as muskets and had no conception of guns that could shoot down dozens in an instant, stand in the position that it’s not about guns but rather mental illness.
As the Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which serves children and their families facing issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, I have seen the many faces of mental illness and addictions for more than 40 years. It is incredibly rare for those who are labelled as mentally ill to be violent. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
Nevertheless, we do need to have a discussion about mental illness at times like these. That discussion, however, needs to be about how insurance companies and the elected officials who count on their donations are failing miserably at having adequate numbers of providers on their lists who take insurance. Over and over again, we hear that, before they found North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which never turns anyone away for inability to pay, they made numerous calls to the mental health providers on their insurer’s list and found that they no longer take insurance or are booked for months.
We also need to talk about how violence against our youth is rampant, not just in mass shootings. The faces of violence against youths are many and the impact vast. In 2013, a statistical report by the research group Child Trends visualized a hypothetical U.S. high school class of 100 graduates. Among those graduates, it estimated:
- 71 have experienced physical assault
- 28 have been victimized sexually (including 10 reporting that they have been the victims of dating violence in the past year and 10 reporting they have been raped)
- 32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment
- 27 were in a physical fight
- 16 carried a weapon in the past year
- 39 have been bullied, physically or emotionally — 16 in the past year
- 29 felt “sad and hopeless” continually for at least two weeks during the past year
- 14 thought seriously about attempting suicide, and
- 6 made a suicide attempt.
If you read between the lines and the years of mass shootings in America, if only from Columbine to Parkland, there were many more horrific events in between that have all but faded from consciousness. As journalist Gary Smith suggested, “the clock is already ticking in the land of amnesia.”
How long before Parkland, too, is gone?
Malekoff is executive director of the nonprofit children’s mental health agency North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights, NY.