Considerable effort and lots of dollars

Bolster mental health services to help prevent future tragedies

One of the topics much discussed in the media and among friends is mental health of the offender. So here we go again. The subject has been raised in each of the incidents since the University of Texas-Austin about 50 years ago. In each incident, the need was demonstrated for improved mental health services to identify perpetrators before the incident occurred, to definition and services for those with mental conditions tied to undesirable behavior. So why have not the actions to identify, treat and house those identified happened? Because nothing has been done. It was just talk at all levels: individuals, towns, counties, states and the federal government. Just keep talking; we're not going to spend any money on mental health problems and the talk will just go away. And it has.

I saw a picture on TV of the Sandy Hook school. There was a sign that said, "Everyone welcome." Obviously one was not welcome. So we come to school security. My only knowledge of this subject comes from what I read and a couple of visits to schools as a volunteer. I believe most schools have well-developed and practiced plans to be used after the perpetrator has gained access to the building. That is all well and good, but it supposes penetration of the first line of defense which allows only "safe" visitors admittance to the school. My experience is that I got in the school buildings without being challenged, which depended upon me to report to the office for a badge, something to show that I was a friend, not a perpetrator. I guess a picture had been taken as I entered, but it would only be of use, after the fact, if I did something bad. To correct this situation will take considerable effort and lots of dollars.

How much is a student's life worth? How much are 20 worth?

There are many other security issues that apparently have not been considered, as far as I am concerned, but this is not the time nor place to give potential perpetrators ideas.

Back to mental health. When I was a kid, let's say 80 years ago, I can't remember any talk about mental health. There were no autistic persons around, nor those who were mentally ill, either because that was the way they were born or because of something that happened to them. This was just a few years after the end of World War I. Some battle veterans were said to be suffering from "battle fatigue," but I didn't know of anyone. I was raised as an Army brat between WWI and the end of WWII. The Army posts of that era were like small- to medium-sized towns. They were self-contained - medical, fire and police. I didn't hear/learn anything of children or adults who suffered from "mental illness," with one exception, one of my mother's siblings. Her only brother had his wife committed to a mental institution here in Colorado. It was a "legal" thing, not a "medical" thing, so I learned of county-run "insane asylums."

As I got older, I learned through the media - newspapers - of abuses in mental institutions/asylums and orphanages for orphaned or runaway children. I am not sure when asylums and orphanages went away, but they did. Orphanages were replaced by foster care. I am not sure when asylums disappeared. My feelings are that asylums were replaced by "personal rights," which I support to a large degree, but not completely.

In any event, my feeling is that mental health was effectively, conveniently pushed to the side. For example, when I was a new lieutenant, it was well known that to seek psychological or psychiatric help was a death knell to a military career, so those who survived WWII or Korea and ultimately Vietnam could not seek help if they needed it. I did seek help, but that is another story since I served from 1946 until 1983.

I am not up to date on the doings of the psychological/psychiatric community in terms of markers for identifying those who have mental health problems, inherited or otherwise. But I have heard that much has been done to understand how these sufferings from defined conditions will react to certain circumstances or conditions.

We need to seriously - that translates as "spend money" - utilize all these resources to prevent such situations again - senseless and preventable killings of children and others.

Remember, guns don't kill, they just shoot. People kill.

Jim Phillips is a retired career military officer living in Cortez.