When Will We Address School Violence?

I t has been 17 year after Columbine and the mother of one shooter did an interview with ABC about the warning signs she missed. If it was only that easy, but it is not. A great deal was missed by many and there is plenty of blame to go around.
First in our society, there is a huge negative stigma regarding mental illness and psychotherapy. I see many teens who would benefit from psychotherapy, but the teenager resists because only “crazy” people go to therapy and they are not crazy. The parents often don’t force the teen to go to therapy because, “he is too big for me to force him to come”, or “if he is going to go I want him to want to go. I think forcing him may cause more damage.” So parents are allowing teens to make the decision about psychotherapy because people believe it is not that important unless you are crazy. If their son’s pedestrian said their son needed surgery, the parents would not allow their son to decide about having or not having surgery.
Another issue facing parents is that belief that only crazy people go to therapy. They don’t want their child or family to be seen as the “crazy one or the weird one.” In these situations, I often hear well we will think about it and try changing things at home and if we feel we really need help we will call. Typically, I receive the call when their son is in juvenile hall for a number of crimes. They are calling too late.
The other problem is the school systems. I work with parents who are reporting symptoms of depression and their son feeling overwhelmed by school or being bullied at school. They ask the school for help, but the school acts like the parents are over protective. When I become involved and let the school know the student needs help and will need an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), the school down plays the behavior or blames the parents. They don’t want to do an IEP because it will cost the school money. I have seen schools tell parents all kind of lies to avoid giving a student an IEP and what the school is forgetting is the help the student desperately needs. Just last month a teacher was fired in San Francisco for having a violent child leave the room. The school district said she could have asked for an individual aide. However, an aide requires an IEP which the San Francisco School District never offered.
Finally, our health care system is to blame also. One Thanksgiving Day, I was paged by a parent I never met. She had been given my number by the County Hospital. She brought her son there because he was suicidal. The hospital told her they had no more beds for suicidal teens and could not help. She had my service page me begging for help. Her son definitely need to be hospitalized. There was nothing I could do on an out-patient basis. I gave her several numbers to hospitals in the areas and told her if all else fails go to an ER room because they cannot refuse to treat.
I have seen this with other teenagers that I have treated. Parents are begging and pleading for help. Their insurance company won’t pay for in-patient treatment or only pay for two weeks when it is a 60 day program. The cost for the treatment programs is often $10,000 a month. A price most families cannot afford. At times when they do receive the insurance authorization, they cannot find an in-patient program with an opening because there are not many of these programs. These parents are doing everything they should but because of society’s view point that mental illness is not real, they find it very difficult to get their children the help they need.
A good example is the shooting at UC Santa Barbara. The parents knew their son had emotional issues and had been trying to get him help. When he went to school in Santa Barbara and his mother found a file on his computer, they knew people were in danger. They called everyone they could think of but were dismissed as over reacting.
An act such as Columbine doesn’t happen because one parent ignored symptoms. An act such as that occurs because parents, friends, family, teachers, school and our mental health system missed warning signs and failed to make the teenager get help. Mental health does deal with life and death situations not just someone crying. It is as serious at what occurs any Friday night in ER rooms in hospitals all over the country.
ABC asked the mother to look at herself, I am asking you to look at yourself and our approach to mental health. Columbine happened 17 years ago and every year since we have had more school shootings and more deaths. I believe so far in 2016 we have had more deaths by school shooting in the preceding 17 years. This is a very, very sad statistic. We need to look at ourselves and ask, what are we going to do to help prevent these senseless killings, not the mother of the Columbine shooter. We as a society must change. The life you save may be your own or your own child’s life.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in treating high risk teenagers and their families. For more information on his work or private practice visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.

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