Mass Murders: Helping Families Cope

mass-shootings-48-states-215-through-10-06-2015This time it’s Roseburg, Oregon, where families are mourning loved ones who were killed while in class at Umpqua Community College. It was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in two years and the bloodiest in Oregon’s modern history.

It’s astonishing how many times we’ve blogged about this dreadful subject. READ HERE:

  1. With the 2011 killings at a political rally in Arizona, we wrote about stress, optimism and recovery.
  2. After the 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre in Connecticut, our focus was on finding hope by taking action.
  3. With the horrendous bombings that blew apart the 2013 Boston Marathon, we blogged about how support and connection can ease pain.
  4. When the Isla Vista students were murdered in 2014, we talked about helping professionals raising public awareness about mental illness.
  5. After the 2015 terrorist attacks at the Paris newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, our focus was on how to feel less helpless in the face of terrorism.
  6. Again in 2015 the Charleston parishioners and clergy were killed during Bible study at church, and we discussed the power of forgiveness.

How can we continue to face these tragedies time and again when nothing changes? The problem is multi-faceted and complicated. And the conversations always seem to get polarized around mental illness and gun control.

At first glance, gun control seems to be an immediate answer. The isolated and angry murderer usually has several guns, all purchased legally. It’s easy to buy weapons in the U.S. and changing that would be a step in a positive direction. Australia has had no mass gun violence since 1996, when a horrific shooting in a picnic area became a catalyst for the enactment of sweeping gun laws.

But the etiology of killing lies elsewhere. And, despite diagnostic and treatment advances, there will always be mental illness. A 2013 investigation by Mother Jones found that 63% of mass shooters between 1982 and 2013 had mental illness. Most of the perpetrators were young men with similar characteristics – socially awkward, withdrawn, emotionally disturbed, ranting and rambling on social media.

Transitioning into adulthood in the midst of hormonal surges and major changes in brain development, some had physiological issues going on. Others were affected by their environment – being ignored or bullied, having no father at home, living with an overly involved mother, learning problems.

Over the years there have been efforts to implement restrictions such as background checks and waiting periods. What we need is an evidence-based public health approach to gun control and policies that prevent people with serious mental illness from gaining access to firearms. In addressing gun violence for the 15th time during his presidency, President Obama made reference to the reporting and his response at the podium being routine. “We’ve become numb to this.”

Mass public shootings with 4 or more dead have become common. There have been 31 so far this year – that’s one every 1.6 weeks.

Let’s honor the victims and their memory by taking action. For the children and grandchildren in our families, this can be a teachable moment. Some have taken a step by volunteering in the field of mental health. Others have engaged in debates about gun control issues. How will you be a catalyst for change?


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