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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Versus Mental Health Educational Cliff

Thought for the day: As the country struggles with the tragedy in Newtown CT the debate about the fiscal cliff has been pushed to the background. One can only hope that the events will keep the physical & emotional health & well-being of our children in the foreground. Hopefully we will all take a long hard look at how well we are doing in caring for the mentally ill in our society. Are we teaching our children to treat one another with respect & without prejudice? Are we jeopardizing the safety of our children while protecting adults' rights to bear arms? Were our forefathers expecting people to carry semi-automatic guns?

We cannot bring back the innocent lives lost, but we can take action to try to prevent similar attacks from occurring. On Sunday I saw a play called Falling in NYC. It is a powerful depiction of the complex issues a family is forced to deal with while raising an 18 year old son who is on the spectrum of autism. Although each child suffering from severe autism to mild asperger's syndrom is different, they raise serious questions which were even more striking in light of the Newtown tragedy. What happens to children when they "age out" of the system & families cannot find appropriate supervised living situations? The facts surrounding the shooter's history & his diagnosis are not clear yet, however, this is not the first time that someone who was potentially dangerous slipped through the cracks & caused senseless loss of life. Today, a Huffington Post article raised the question: Did Fear Of Being Committed Lead To Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting?  If you are near NYC, I urge you to see the play, Falling, before it closes at the end of this month to understand the struggles of raising a disturbed adult in a society that does not have enough adequate resources to help them.

Schools across the country are also struggling with budgetary cuts & focusing on academic achievement while neglecting social & emotional health issues. Our children are dealing with bullying & prejudice (I have written extensively in previous posts about bullying in our schools.) which can lead to disgruntled angry responses among children who become loners & outcasts among their peers. All too often school systems ignore or deny the existence of bullying or they have one time programs to remedy the problems. Short term interventions following the suicide of a bullied student or death of a student due to drunken driving, is not enough to combat the problems facing our children. Parents need to advocate for ongoing comprehensive programs that work with both the bullies and the children who have been the targets of bullies. 

Merchants, film makers & television producers must also strive to use restraint & self-censorship when it comes to the marketing of violent video games, movies & TV shows. Do our children need to be encouraged to shoot realistic targets with high powered video rifles? Psychological research documents the negative effects of such games & movies on normal children.  Aimee Tompkins summarized The Psychological Effects of Violent  Media on Children  ironically, on December 14, 2003 & found that: "The American Psychological Association says there are three major effects of watching violence in the media (i.e.: video games/television) children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, children may be more fearful of the world around them, and children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others." The impact on the mentally ill child or adult is simply multiplied. As parents & responsible citizens, let the game manufacturers & media know that you want them to curtail & discontinue such games & reduce the amount of explicit violence in the media.

The Huffington Post report this morning that Walmart Guns Out Of Stock Following Newtown Massacre is extremely disturbing. How many more homes will now have weapons within reach of children & potentially violent disturbed individuals? We must make sure that our representatives in Washington take this alarming trend to stockpile weapons in their deliberations. Yesterday, a client told me that at gun ranges there are lockers to store arms. Perhaps that is a way to keep them away from the hands of those who could use them to do harm. 

It seems like years ago, but on November 2nd I wrote a Post called: Whether the Glass is 1/2 Empty or Half Full, Make the Most With What You Have Left. Today, I am writing about what to do when the glass is shattered. The glass was shattered last Friday & we are all struggling to glue the pieces back together & find our way back to sanity to regain trust in our society's ability to protect our rights for life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.  

These are not easy problems to resolve. They are complex & the solutions will not be quick or easy; however we must make sure they are addressed & that the discussions continue when the media stops reporting about the tragedy. Although our hearts are heavy this holiday season, I encourage you to continue to dream of & work for "Peace on earth, good will toward men." Regardless of your religious affiliation, we all need & can be inspired by the words & music which have additional significance this year. I will never think of the song Rock of Ages in the same way as when I heard the words this year that say: "And your strength broke their swords, when our own strength failed us." Although we may feel that alone our strength may fail us, together, we must find strength to believe in miracles & take action to make them happen. By voicing our concerns & searching for creative solutions to the challenges we face, out of this tragedy, may we find the strength to build a better safer world.

Please share your comments, thoughts & ideas of ways to work together to solve these challenges.

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