Gun Safety and the Mental Health Crisis Facing our Youth

Stop for just a second. Put aside your political and cultural beliefs about guns and your feelings about the second amendment. Please understand I am not questioning the right to bear arms. Imagine, for maybe five seconds, that you are a child at Sandy Hook, a teenager at Parkland, or one of the more than 1,000 people killed in mass shootings in the US since 1966 or victim of one of the 18 mass shootings in the last two months. The hope and promise of your or your child’s future erased in a matter of seconds.

As a mom, I cannot even remotely fathom what these parents are experiencing. But as the days have passed, I realize we are missing an important piece in the conversation on gun control: This is a public health crisis, and a mental health dilemma. Doctors have to get involved; we cannot stay silent.

I started my career in pediatrics, and it breaks my heart to see what seems to be unfolding weekly—another day, another school shooting. Did you know that in all of 2017 only one month passed without a mass shooting?! Are we expected to accept this as normal, move on, request prayers and hope that something will be different next time? Obviously, this strategy is not working.

Today, neuroinflammation and mental health affect millions of Americans—young and old—every year.  According to the NIH, tens of millions of Americans suffer from mental illness, with only half receiving treatment. Like any chronic disease, inflammation often begins quietly only becoming noticeable when a more obvious symptom such as anxiety, depression, or another known mental illness is diagnosed. These are some of the most common complaints in the exam room and the impetus for an entire industry of counseling, psychiatry, and the like. As a practicing physician, I already know how tough it is to get any type of mental health support for my patients. In this environment, we have no time and no room to be frivolous with gun control. Our children are on more medications, in more disrupted homes, and exposed to more toxins than at any other juncture in history. We have a society of broken brains, broken homes, technology addiction (72% of teenagers feel the compulsive need to keep checking their smartphones or tablets according to Common Sense Media) and fragmented health care. This is a tragic recipe for the dehumanization that allows shooters to feel justified in their actions over and over again, making it easy to see a young child or another human being as a target, not a person.

We cannot mix access to guns with the societal and medical pressures that exist today. We don’t have the checks and balances in place. We have a fractured system in which our biggest enemy lies amongst us and in us, not from an outside invader.

Understand the multiple issues. Do the right thing. Get involved. I know that I cannot stomach watching these scenes over and over again. Many are speaking out on social media on campaigns such as “Never Again,” on Facebook and #neveragain on Twitter, reaching out to their legislators, organizing their community, or even just getting to know their neighbors—adults and children. Get technology out of the hands of our young children and supervise your teenagers.  Speak up when you notice a child or an adult starting to unravel. Just do something to contribute to solving this horrific epidemic. It will take all of us.