Schools should consider mental health checkups
February 18, 2008 —
LOSING STREAK -
The nation's colleges and universities have bonded together again to mourn the victims and support the families of those slain at Northern Illinois University, one of several college shootings in the U.S. and abroad in the recent months.
Two more students were murdered on Feb. 8 when a student at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge, La. opened fire on a classroom. The gunman also killed himself. Last September, one student died of injuries at Delaware State University in Dover, Del. a month after being fired upon by an assailant in the early morning hours.
There were other shootings at three high schools. In December, a gunman shot six kids as they were leaving the bus. It was reported that the attack followed a high-school fight over a girl. In October, a shooting occurred at a Cleveland high school where two students and two teachers were critically wounded by a 14-year-old. In November, an 18-year-old student in Finland killed seven kids and a teacher.
All of these shootings closely followed the widely publicized Virginia Tech massacre in April of 2007, which left 32 dead and 15 wounded in the worst school shooting in U.S. history.
These tragedies have rekindled the arguments over gun laws, but perhaps that's misdirecting attention that could be used elsewhere.
The gunman, it has been reported, was considered to be an excellent student by his professors and an otherwise fairly normal dude by his peers. Only once he was off his medication did he begin to exhibit unfamiliar and potentially dangerous behavioral traits.
But just because he was off his meds, are we to assume that the terrible act that he committed was a sudden outburst of rage? A release of angst suppressed by medication? That seems implausible. The act was too premeditated - he obtained a gun license and passed a background check, first. Second, he purchased a Glock online from the same dealer that the Virginia Tech gunman used (www.topglock.com). So he was thinking logically: "If the VTech guy - who by most accounts was obviously deranged - used this store and got away with it, so can I." All of this was done far in advance of the shootings.
What this suggests to us is that this man had long been severely troubled. So a discussion on gun laws only gets us so far. What we need is a discussion on mental health.
Most kids get regular physical checkups when they're in primary school and often into high school. It's just part of life. But why don't they get mental checkups? Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two often intertwine. But one needn't pass their "mentals" in order to play on the basketball team. And it's not like the test would have to be a pass/fail type of thing, it could just estimate the general mental health of an individual.
As a society, we've done a pretty good job of at least talking about physical fitness.
But the string of murders at schools strongly suggests that we need to talk more about mental fitness. Maybe high schools should require regular mental examinations. Maybe colleges should require occasional mental exams, or aggressively push counseling programs. It's clear that we need to do something to prevent more of what's happened at Northern Illinois.