Nearly everyone in the United States has heard of Littleton, Colo., Jonesboro, Ark., and West Paducah, Ky. These places have entered the culture's conscience only because of an increasingly common type of tragedy linking them together--school shootings.
In American culture, these high-profile occurrences have become screens upon which troubled individuals project their feelings. They are a behavioral template for them to act out a need for revenge and control because they have been rejected or outcast. That is why thousands of copycat threats and attempted and completed suicides follow each occurrence.
Adults and other young people may feel a sense of despair or express cynicism when it "happens again." However, we are never immune to violence and cannot be immobilized by our shock in hearing about another child killing a child.
Preventive and intervenient actions must be taken. First, we must resolve to provide a range of supportive services to children in their natural environments--homes, schools, churches and community gathering places. We must make a commitment to pairing informed adults with kids through after-school programs, weekend activities and educational programs that teach basic social skills (which are now recognized as part of the foundation required for learning).
For troubled children and families, we must provide accessible, quality mental health services. And we must work to change the stigma attached to seeking and receiving such services.
In the national report on mental health released in December 1999, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher recognized mental health as fundamental to overall health. He also acknowledged that mental disorders are real health conditions.
A range of effective treatments exists for most mental disorders, yet many adults, including adults who care for troubled children, do not seek help for themselves or their children because they lack the knowledge that good treatments exist or because of the powerful and pervasive social stigma that prevents people from acknowledging mental health problems. As a result, too many schools and too many children, teachers and their families have suffered.
At this anniversary, let us stop to recognize the survivors of the "year after." Let us join together to honor the lives of those who were lost and commit to providing continued care for those who have lived to remember.
Every child and adult living in this country is obligated to take some constructive action to build our schools and communities with relationships of mutual care and respect. This must surely be done if we are to end the violence and ensure that those who have died have not died in vain.