Guest column: What we can learn from Newtown

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Guest commentary

When tragedies like the Newtown, Conn., massacre occur, journalists and the community turn to psychiatric professionals for help understanding why such things happen. Experts may look toward genetics, psychiatric disorders or early childhood experiences to explain mass shootings of innocents, but such events are so rare (thankfully) that science will never be able to know how someone can behave with such disregard for human life.

There are, however, things that can be learned about the tragedy in that small Connecticut town. For one, events like these remind us of how precious and fragile human life is. When someone can lose their life so quickly, and so needlessly, it gives those who survive a special sense of purpose and resolve. In the day following the shooting, several of my clients had told me, "When I look at what those poor families went through, I realize that the things that are bothering me really aren't that big." Events like these make us appreciate our loved ones that much more.

Another aspect of that shooting is that it reminds us of the importance of friends, community and religious institutions. In the days following the event, people gathered together in vigils, prayer meetings or in informal clusters just to hold each other, reach out to each other and know that their pain is shared. Of course, such communal bonding can't bring back the loved ones, or change what has already happened. But when tragedy occurs, a community weaves itself together to form a feeling of safety around those who suffer and to give everyone a sense of stability and purpose. Studies tell us that when individuals are able to find some meaning in suffering, they are more likely to recover with fewer emotional scars.

The other unanticipated outcome of the killings in Sandy Hook Elementary School is to raise the consciousness in the public about mental-illness issues. Experts all agree that individuals who engage in mass shootings have something mentally "wrong." That being said, the public may be led to believe that every person who has a mental-health problem is at risk for becoming a mass murderer. That is absolutely not the case. It is true that some people with certain mental-health problems may be more likely than nonaffected individuals to engage in violent behavior. However, the vast majority of people with mental-health issues are not a threat to others. They care about human life as much as anyone else and have no desire to hurt or be hurt by another human.

The real question to be raised by the tragedy at Newtown is not should we be scared of people with psychological problems, but how we can help people who are affected by mental health issues. The David Lawrence Center, Collier County's comprehensive, not-for-profit behavioral health provider serving children, adults and families, is just one mental-health center among hundreds in the country that is dedicated to helping individuals who struggle with psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar and substance abuse. Immediate and intensive help is only a phone call away. The David Lawrence Center's highly-trained clinical staff have the expertise to assist people who struggle to maintain emotional wellness. DLC has the manpower, and the know-how, to help people return to a healthful state of mind. All it takes is a phone call.

If you or someone you know is dealing with feelings of emotional instability, don't hesitate; reach out and get help. Together, we can work together to improve the sense of well-being not only for the individual, but for the community as a whole.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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