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Christian Counseling - A Comment on the Arizona Shootings

I recently went on vacation so I was not "blogging" when the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona took place. Unlike some who wrote about the shootings without taking necessary time to think things through, I would like to add my comment now. Many have seemed to desire to find a narrative that fits the story. However, many commentators have projected their own biases onto the tragedy. At the risk of doing so as well, a factor that has not been discussed fully is the issue of mental health.

Mental health has been discussed somewhat in that some have said that certainly "crazy" people should not have access to guns. In discussing people like Jared Loughner as "crazy", these commentators are already showing a bias. Dealing with severely mentally ill people is something not to be taken lightly, and, for those who have experienced mental illness or cared for those who have, labelling someone as "crazy" does them and us a disservice.

Also in these discussions of people with severe mental illness, in many cases it was considered a given that those with mental illness are also violent. This allegation is simply not true. Research proves out that mentally ill people are no more prone to violence than the average person. We tend to feel uncomfortable around people that are mentally ill, and, as a result, confuse this discomfort with dangerousness.

What all of this disguises is an issue which is significant. Both in this case and the Virginia Tech shootings, significantly mentally ill people engaged in acts of horrendous violence. An important link is that both came in contact with faculty and security at the colleges that they were attending, but neither got the help that they needed. In Jared Loughner's case, he was told by the college he was attending to no longer come to campus. The people at the school felt there was enough of a danger to ask him to stay away, but, according to the current facts, never had Mr. Loughner taken to an emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation. There needs to be better policies in place in school and university settings to aid in getting help for those who are mentally ill.

Why is it important in school settings? First, when talking about people who experience a psychotic break, the onset of these issues is often during college years. Second, just as learning disabilities are often first suspected by elementary school teachers, college professors and staff are often the first to see signs of serious mental illness. These professionals act as often the first line of defense to begin the process of getting the mentally ill person help. What you will often see in these cases are a number of faculty who say afterward that they suspected something, but did not act because either they did not know what to do, or they believed someone else would do so.

I believe that these incidents have happened often enough to warrant some increased education for faculty in identifying symptoms of mental illness and a coherent policy to get students help. For every Jared Loughner who takes the lives of innocent people, there are likely hundreds of mentally ill students who do not hurt anyone, but who do not get the help they need either.

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