Posts Tagged ‘ Newtown ’

Gun Violence And Gun Safety: Parents Magazine’s Facebook Town Hall With Vice President Biden

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Parents Magazine is hosting a Facebook Town Hall with Vice President Biden on Tuesday, February 19, at 3:30 PM (eastern time). You have an opportunity to post questions that may be asked of the Vice President on Parents’ Facebook page

Gun violence and safety is a complex topic – certainly one of four public health issues raised by the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy – and this is a unique opportunity to get the Vice President’s thoughts on the matter.

I encourage you to be a part of this.

Town Hall via

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Is “Ignorance” Killing Our Kids?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

An editorial in the New York Times suggests this is so in relation to gun control issues and the devastating losses of young lives that we continue to witness, the most recent being the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. The crux of the argument is that we need to consider the seemingly endless stream of senseless murders (from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Aurora to Newtown) from the perspective of public health – meaning we need to treat this like an epidemic and rectify all the gaps in knowledge that currently exist about guns and violence.  I couldn’t agree more.

This month, I used the public health framework to discuss our knowledge base on the four central issues we have all been discussing in relation to Sandy Hook:

Mental Health

Gun Control

School Safety

Violent Video Games

The conclusion each time was that we really are pretty ignorant about how these factors come together to lead an individual to murder innocent youth. What we need now is to start asking pointed questions in research designed to help us arrive at meaningful next steps that would reduce the likelihood of these heinous acts taking innocent lives – based on reputable data and not just rhetoric or philosophy. That’s what public health research does – plain and simple, it identifies factors that can be modified to prevent the probability of death, and conducts scientific tests to generate an empirical foundation for making decisions that impact the problem. Studies showed that seatbelts save lives – we require use of seatbelts. Studies showed that teens who text when driving are at increased risk for getting killed – we ban texting. We don’t know right now the relative mix of influence posed by mental health issues, access to guns, and exposure to violent video games – and we need the studies to sort that out rather than pitting one factor against the other in a philosophical game of chess that does nothing to improve school safety. Public health is agnostic – just get answers and act on them. If we don’t take that principle seriously, then yes, ignorance is killing our kids.


Epidemiology and Public Health via


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Sandy Hook Aftermath: Mental Health As A Public Health Issue

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Mental health is one of the 4 public health topics being discussed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Should it be part of the equation for trying to reduce the likelihood of future school shootings? The answer is yes. 

The focus here, though, is not exactly going to be about the usual topics you’ve been reading about, all of which carry their own importance, such as: the need for better mental health screening; the importance of making mental health services more accessible to those who need it; failures in the system which make it difficult to continue with treatments. While these issues are important, we need to expand our thinking about “psychiatric disorders” with respect to preventing future shootings. Although there are empirical links between psychiatric illness and violence, the vast majority of individuals who suffer from any one diagnosed psychiatric disorder are not going to commit mass murder. Put another way, there isn’t one simple diagnostic test that would offer enough precision to tell us who may be at risk for that kind of behavior.

Our focus needs to be placed on promoting the healthy all-around development of youth, starting early in life, and parallel efforts to recognize signs of distress and maladaptive functioning and to do something meaningful about that. Psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis is part of the process, but experienced clinicians don’t treat disorders – they treat people. They know how to get a full picture of a youth’s life – how they behave at home and in school, how they interact with kids and adults, how they manage their emotions, what kinds of thoughts they have in their heads. Intervention for troubled youth is not simplistic, and there are many types of factors to consider. It takes a multidisciplinary effort to attend to numerous dimensions of development (cognitive, emotional, social, educational, neurological). And it’s critical to understand that key developmental stages (e.g., starting school, entering adolescence, transition from high school) offer particularly powerful windows into seeing which kids are making good transitions, and which kids may be troubled. They are important check points for evaluation and intervention – and looking for red flags in a kid’s developmental trajectory.

Consider the following thoughts offered by Dr. Harold Koplewicz, President of the Child Mind Institute:

We know that when we see someone suffering we shouldn’t look away. And when we see young people coughing, wheezing or bleeding, we insist that they get attention. But when we see young people with disturbing behavior, or young people in clear emotional distress, we ignore them and hope these problems will go away.

The first signs of 75% of all psychiatric disorders appear by the age of 24. We need to be on the lookout for signs of distress in young people to get them help as soon as possible. Research shows that early intervention improves the outlook for anyone with a psychiatric disorder—and drastically reduces the likelihood of violence.

To achieve this type of vigilance and action, we need a dedicated effort that includes better information provided to parents and school systems – and an infrastructure that provides the ability to coordinate with developmental and mental health experts to deliver the best supported interventions. It will take money (something that’s not exactly flowing these days at the national level) and it will take commitment. It needs to start at most local level and eventually spread to a national level.

So where do we go next? Since the Sandy Hook shooting, some have argued that mental health is not the issue – that our focus should be on gun control because we don’t see this type of violence in other countries who have similar rates of mental illness. I get that perspective – but I still believe that we are failing if we have individuals who are so socially isolated and filled with anger and rage that they commit murder-suicide. Trying to apply our best efforts to reduce the likelihood of having youth and adults in our society who get to that point is not the full answer – but it’s part of the equation.

Tomorrow, I will address gun control as one of the 4 public health issues we are all discussing.

Psychology Concept via




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The Sandy Hook Shooting: The 4 Public Health Topics We Will Be Discussing In 2013

Monday, December 31st, 2012

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, we all struggle to figure out how we can try to prevent further rampages, particularly (but not exclusively) in schools. There are 4 topics which are receiving the most attention – and will be the center of many debates in 2013. Starting on January 2nd, I will take these on, from the lens of public health – meaning I will examine each in terms of the potential of making life safer for kids in school. The topics are: 

Mental Health: One viewpoint is that increases in mental health awareness, improvements in diagnosis, and reducing barriers to treatment will be key in preventing further mass murders. While there is clearly a need to invest in mental health in our country, how central should mental health issues be in the debates following the Sandy Hook shooting? Is mental health the fundamental concern – or is it getting overplayed in lieu of taking on ….

Gun Regulation: Another viewpoint is that our primary objective should be immediate increases in gun regulation as the fundamental way of preventing future tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting. The argument here is that the type of weapons that are available in this country facilitate the rapid execution of many youth. Those who disagree argue that mental health issues trump the access of firearms. So, from the public health perspective, is there an answer to be found?

School Safety: One thing is certain – we all feel the need to make our schools safer. Some schools in the country already had armed personnel in place prior to the Sandy Hook shooting. Should all schools do this? As a parent, would you feel better, or worse, seeing armed guards at your kid’s school? And what impact might this have on the kids themselves?

Violent Video Games: Still on the radar is the issue of violent video games. Do they really make individuals more violent? Should they be banned? What is the scientific evidence?

First up: the Mental Health debate on January 2, 2013.

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A Mother Describes Her Son’s Mental Illness In The Aftermath Of The Sandy Hook Tragedy

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Please click here to read an extraordinary first-person account of what it is like for a parent to try to manage a child who suffers from a poorly understood and extreme type of mental illness.

Now, after reading this, consider these observations, drawn from decades of experience as a researcher in the mental health field:

  • We still have much to learn about the causes of mental illness, in children as well as adults
  • Our need for more knowledge requires a dedicated national commitment to escalate our funding for mental health research – especially in the face of the devastating cutbacks that the field has been experiencing for some time now
  • Although we have many talented clinicians in this country, we lack the substantial economic and practical support systems to try to bring what we do know about treatments to many kids who are in desperate need of it
  • The current debates we have in the field about how to properly diagnose and treat mental illness (and there are many) would be potentially resolved if we could, as a nation, generate sufficient support for research on mental illness

The last few years have been especially unkind to mental health research. Research grants – those of my colleagues and my own – have been cut drastically, substantially limiting what we can accomplish. As a grant reviewer for the National Institutes of Health, I’ve witnessed funding levels drop at a ridiculous pace – to the point that many researchers have to spend the majority of their time trying to raise money to do science, rather than actually doing the science. And as we all wonder about the fiscal cliff, keep in mind that we are facing even more severe reductions in our funding that could easily paralyze research and treatment. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of how little resources are out there to provide the type of intensive intervention to troubled youth to try to prevent the kinds of tragedies we keep witnessing.

As these tragedies continue to occur at a dizzying and distressing pace , it’s time for serious legislative efforts to rapidly provide a suitable infrastructure to prioritize research and treatment aimed at mental health. What can you do? A starting place is to get in touch with your representatives in the United States Congress. They control the purse strings. Let them know that we are at a point where we cannot process more tragedies, and that it’s time to really do something meaningful about it. It’s called funding.

For more information and resources on dealing with the tragedy, visit the following on

Mental Health via

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