America has not only failed our students when it comes to gun violence, but we’ve also failed them when it comes to grappling with its aftermath.
Within a week, two teenage survivors of last year’s Parkland, Fla., school shooting, Sydney Aiello (19) and Calvin Desir (16), died by apparent suicide. In addition, Jeremy Richman, whose daughter was murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre, took his own life just a few days later.
These tragedies have prompted an aftershock that reverberated throughout the Parkland community, a town still reeling from the shooting. An emergency suicide prevention forum has been scheduled; school administrators are placing robocalls to students’ homes to encourage an open family dialogue about suicide. Questions are being raised about increasing government funding for mental health resources. But is it too little too late?
This rash of recent suicides shows that we are wildly unprepared to deal with the fallout of ever-increasing school shootings. It serves as a deeply troubling wake-up call that we not only need to end gun violence in this country but we also need to address how the lasting effects of such violence have rooted themselves permanently into the lives of survivors.
According to mental health experts, experiencing a traumatic event can cause an uptick in suicidal ideation. Approximately 27% of people diagnosed with PTSD attempt suicide at some point in their lifetime. However, there is little research that focuses specifically on school shooting-caused PTSD and, as a result, we still don’t know enough about the harmful burdens carried by traumatized students or how to deal with them.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, specifically, were told to merely push away their pain and grief, to “get over it, it’s been a year.” Such little forethought means that we continue to leave students vulnerable and defenseless, even long after these tragedies have occurred.
There’s something both sad and necessary about preparing students and mental health officials on how to cope with the potential aftereffects of a hypothetical shooting. There’s a certain moral failure to it: we couldn’t keep such horror from happening to our kids, so now we’re forced to determine how we should pick up the pieces left in its wake.
Perhaps that’s why school administrators and parents alike have been so reluctant to confront mental health advocacy as a preventative measure rather than an afterthought of tragedy. But the heightened number of mass shootings is our current reality and preparing for such unthinkable devastation has become a necessity.
Would it be ideal for the United States to unite behind a gun control policy that prevents more of these traumatic events from happening in the future? Absolutely. But considering that we are no closer to a policy than we were at the time of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, or even at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, the grim reality is that there will likely be more victims to mourn and survivors to contend with before we can learn how to cure our culture of violence. If we don’t focus on mental health advocacy for school shooting survivors in tandem with gun control efforts, we are doing a disservice to every survivor.
It’s clear that the scars of mass shootings stay long after the last echoes of gunfire fade away. The path to healing is tenuous, but we have a duty to make sure every single shooting survivor is able to take the small steps necessary to get there.
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Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won’t love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.