Monday, December 17, 2012

A Better Tomorrow...

I thought my next blog post would be about my JFK 50 Mile Race Recap but instead, this blog post was written with a heavy heart at 6am this morning...

I am awake. The entire house is quiet. I am never up this early (unless it is race day).  The snooze button is one of my best friends.  But this morning is different.  Like most every Mom and Dad in America who has a school aged child, I am feeling the anxiety of letting my three babies go to their elementary school. My youngest is 6 years old and in first grade, just like the innocent twenty first graders, who lost their lives on Friday.  My twins are almost ten years old and in fourth grade.   I spoke with them on Friday afternoon about what happened. My kids are not afraid to go back to school. So why am I having a difficult time letting go?  I have tried to keep the TV off and stay away from the news but I realize it is too late and like most of America, I am traumatized by not only what I know has happened but also by all the images/news reports that keep swirling around in my head.  My imagination kicks into overdrive and I relive what I think happened on that horrific day.  I recently read their was enough ammunition found to end everyone's life at the school but the horror stopped when the police came and this is when, a very sick individual, ended his own life.  It is a horrific nightmare that won't end for those families who lost a loved one to gun violence.  The reality is, this nightmare that can happen again if we do not demand stricter gun control laws.

As my kids wake up, I will smile, be cheerful, hug them, love them and to be completely honest, probably tell them to "hurry up" once or twice, to avoid being tardy, as we scurry out the door.  I have to believe that my children will be okay when I tell them goodbye at the front door of their school.

But I have a confession.  As a trauma social worker for ten years, and as a mom, who has had three pregnancy losses, I can't help but imagine every bad scenario that may involve my children.  Ever since my twins began kindergarten, I have always thought the locks on the school would do nothing to prevent a horrific event, like Friday, from happening. Everyday before school, for the last four and half years, I have showered my affection to my babies because I know bad stuff does happen and there is no guarantee that they will come home. There are so many broken people in the world. I have worked with many of them, in my role as a social worker.

While I was an intern at a local mental health center/school, I will never forget the teenage son whose goal in group therapy was to "get along better with his mom." And his mom's goal was "to understand my son better so I can help him." Nine months later, while up late, writing a paper for finals, I was watching the news and saw the horror unfold. The TV news reporter stated that the boy's mom was now dead and her son was the murderer. My supervisor and I had just seen them in group therapy the week before and there was no indication that this 17 year old boy was about to become a monster.  I have never wept so much. My innocence of believing I could help people with mental illness heal, was completely shattered. That day will forever be black. I still had one more year left to graduate with my Master's in Social Work.  I wanted to flee the program and jump into the business world but I stuck with the business of helping people who are floating in this world and so desperately need love, attention and in most cases, therapy and medicine.

For years, I have been saying in conversations, over and over and over, when discussing nightmare situations involving senseless death of innocent victims because of a shooting, that there MUST be a mandated health screening BEFORE purchasing a gun. I could care less about the HIPPA laws.  

We must find a way to screen for mental health issues and make sure the wrong people do not not end up owning a gun.  

The massacre at VA Tech, my alma mater, may have been prevented, as well as, the senseless tragedy at the movie theater in Aurora, CO.  Both of these individual's had documented mental health issues and had guns registered in their name. However, this action would not have prevented Friday's tragedy. But maybe we take it a step further and have a check box that asks if you live with someone that is diagnosed with mental health issues? Maybe include a  mental health check requirement for everyone in the home before purchasing a gun?  Many pet adoption agencies require a home check before adopting! And a home check screening process is mandatory if you are adopting a child! We have to pass a test to drive a car, shouldn't we demand extra vigilance be placed on whose homes guns are brought into? So many senseless acts of violence could be prevented if we take a stand and demand that we want an individual to undergo a mental health screening before purchasing a gun. It won't stop all of these horrific gun violence incidents but it can be the beginning for a better tomorrow.

We must also ensure the people in our country who are struggling with mental illness, get the help they need and that we support their families.

Services are lacking as funding is being cut from local mental health programs. With the right treatment and support, a person with a mental health diagnosis can live a life that is productive and fulfilling. The key to this success is not only an accurate diagnosis but also continued treatment, whether it be therapy, medicine or both.  Many individuals who need this treatment are not capable of working without proper treatment, therefore, they do not have access to mental health therapy because they do not have health insurance.  Many of their families have exhausted their own resources and cannot afford the treatment that their loved one may need.   Unfortunately, some parents may choose to ignore warning signs of mental illness and look the other way because they are too exhausted themselves to continue seeking treatment for their mentally ill child.  It can be a daily uphill battle to live with someone who is mentally ill.  This is especially true if your child is not receiving the proper treatment he/she needs or an adolescent/adult child is not complying with the treatment that has been prescribed.

We must also create a federal database of gun owners or gun purchasers.  There is no federal database with this information, therefore, there is no regulation on who is buying what guns and how many.  The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986  prohibits the feds from maintaining one.  This is a legal loophole that must be addressed.  It allows a gun owner to stockpile guns and not be detected, such as the case as the individual responsible for the gun violence at the theater in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year.

But this is only the beginning of the conversation that a brokenhearted, mourning America must have. I am grieving for those 26 precious lives lost on Friday and for their families, just like all of you are too. I want a better world for my children. I want our leaders to make changes because our current laws are not protecting us from senseless, random shooting sprees where so many innocent lives are now forever gone. We need to come together and let our voices be heard!  Please visit this link to take action to prevent gun violence:  

We need more than an outpouring of sympathy, and extra hugable moments with our kids, and makeshift memorials.  We must demand that our children be safe and make America a place of kindness and compassion.  We must want a change and shout it as loud as we can, that we want a Better Tomorrow.  We cannot keep repeating the past scenarios of gun violence.                 

                                         Make your voice heard and be the light in the world.

Prayers for Peace today to all of you and your families and for those families grieving the loss of a loved one taken by an act of senseless gun violence.  The light will guide us all from darkness.