It’s been almost a week since the mass shooting at the Aurora movie theater. In the wake of something this senseless and heart-wrenching, feelings of helplessness, anger, frustration and sadness weigh heavily.
Was this the act of a sick individual or just another manifestation of a sick society? Either way, the answer is troubling.
The first scenario involves a mentally disturbed individual who couldn’t separate dream world from reality. If this was the case, it calls into question how we, as a society, deal with and recognize mental illness.
“Severe mental illness needs to be screened for and assessed early, as soon as kids start school, even as soon as preschool,” says Diane Policelli, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado and California and former therapist at Aurora Mental Health Center. “Then early intervention can begin, resulting in much better treatment outcomes. The problem is that it often goes undetected, due to faulty parenting and lack of resources in public schools. A kid could be psychotic and untreated until some disaster like the Aurora shooting or Columbine occurs.”
The second scenario, even more disturbing, involves a cold-blooded killer who planned everything in advance and knew exactly what they were doing. This would call into question how we, as a society, deal with the worldwide conditions out of which something like this could happen.
“We may see more psychiatric spectrum disorders in our post-modern world due to increasing lack of social support in the form of flesh and blood,” says Policelli. “Folks in this shooter’s age range —he is 24 — have been conditioned to have virtual experiences. Social networking has increased the lack of empathy, and paradoxically, genuine connection with others, oftentimes leading to increased aggression due to a sense of anonymous power.”
Numerous other factors come into play here, of course, like gun control (or lack thereof), the 24/7 news cycle and the seemingly never-ending coverage of tragedies like this that make killers infamous and inspire copycats around the world, and the completely ineffective leaders in Washington who could come up with sensible legislation if they weren’t in the pocket of lobbyists and big business.
But those things stray from the health and wellness focus of this blog, so back to the mental health aspect. At the end of the day, maybe both of the above scenarios are accurate: the shooter is sick and our country is sick.
How to heal then? For a community that endured Columbine, this latest tragedy is almost too much to bear. For some people, the only way to carry on is to disconnect, to get as far away as possible from what the human race has become.
But perhaps the opposite needs to occur. Perhaps it’s time to re-engage, to take ownership. Perhaps we need to face the sickness that exists before healing can truly begin.