My heart, along with those of parents across America, broke as the news of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting unfolded. I still cannot catch my breath trying to grasp the horrific trauma for each child who endured even one second of such a nightmare. There are no words in the face of the unfathomable loss for families whose loved one were killed. Families as Allies’ and my personal thoughts, prayers and hearts are with each and every person affected by yesterday’s devastating tragedy.
I am even more sobered by the fact that it was just a few short years ago I wrote similar words after the shooting at Sandy Hook.
Speculation inevitably turns to mental illness after this kind of violence. That’s understandable – we all grapple with how someone could conceive of gunning down their fellow human beings, let alone carry out such a horrific act. I wish there was a simple answer to that question. Right now there is not.
Whatever the answers to that question turn out to be, and they are likely to be complicated, we all need to understand that committing an act of unspeakable violence does not mean that someone has a mental illness in the way we currently define mental illness.
Most of you know that Families is Allies is an organization made up of families across the state whose children have mental health challenges. When we say mental health challenges we mean things like: a child who has bipolar disorder and whose mood swings can make it hard to get up and go to school, a child with ADHD who want to do well in school but struggles every day to stay focused, a child who is eager to excel at everything they do but is overwhelmed with panic when they have to perform.
But this must be said: people, including children, with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Let’s not compound yesterday’s tragedy by inadvertently making it harder for children with mental health challenges to get support because they are afraid they will be perceived as the next mass shooter to make the news.
Of course, at the same time we also want to make it safe for children who are considering violence to get help before they act. We at Families as Allies are committed to standing with any family who is looking for support for their child, regardless of the reason.
Let’s focus on how can we work together to promote good mental health in all children from an early age.
I know all of you, like me, want to cling more closely to your children today and are holding the families and children of Broward County close in your heart. I hope we will surround our children with love and compassion as we all work together to stop the senseless tragedy of another mass shooting. We need each other; and our children, ALL of our children, need us.
With heartfelt sympathy and in unity with all of you,