What Should We Do?

Reading time – 121 upsetting seconds  .  .  .

WARNING: People are being murdered, but you might not care. Have a look at this and you’ll understand. Then come back here for an eye-opener.

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I’m a curious guy, so when a horrific event unfolds, one of my first reactions is to wonder what’s behind the event, pushing it to its terrible end. It’s the “Why?” question we all ask when yet another killer snuffs out the lives of innocent people. It turns out that some smart people with the resources for research have looked into this question extensively and it’s pretty easy to get information.

For example, in a summary article on sott.net they report,

Nearly every mass shooting incident in the last twenty years, and multiple other instances of suicide and isolated shootings all share one thing in common, and it’s not the weapons used.

The overwhelming evidence suggests the single largest common factor in all of these incidents is that all of the perpetrators were either actively taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been at some point in the immediate past before they committed their crimes. [emphasis added]

Most shooters are male, in their teens to early 20s and they are on drugs – prescription drugs, legally prescribed and obtained. Some side effects of these SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors ), like Zoloft, Ritalin and Prozac, are suicidal tendencies and violence.

We are a drug-taking society and we carry the expectation that a pill will solve our problems. This from AntidepressantAdverseReactions.com,

In addition to depression, SSRIs are marketed for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), Social Anxiety Disorder (“SAD”) and Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (“PMDD”) and Panic Disorder.

See? Just take a pill and all those nasty symptoms go away.

And we’re taking ever more of these drugs. In a 2014 Scientific American article, they wrote,

Antidepressant use among Americans is skyrocketing. Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant.

We throw pharmaceuticals at ourselves willingly – we like quick fixes – and sometimes we do so inappropriately. Just do a search on “SSRI overprescription” and read any article (here’s one from Psychology Today and here’s one from the American Psychological Association) and you’ll see that’s true. But the story is worse than that.

The pharmaceutical companies actively, enthusiastically and artfully tell the happy tale of how their products make life better. They are far less prone to put out front the downsides, the side effects. In fact, they go out of their way to soft-peddle and sometimes suppress them. (Same deal: just do a search on “suppression of SSRI side effects” and read any article – here’s one.) The pharmaceutical companies make a profit of over $6,000,000,000 per year on SSRIs; little wonder they don’t want to tell us the risks of violence from giving acting-out little Johnny some pills.

But then Johnny grabs the legally purchased guns from dad’s house and goes to the movie theater or the local school and kills a bunch of people, then himself. And we’re all shocked and surprised.

In a 2013 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, they found what you’ve felt all along, that things are getting worse, that there are more and more mass shootings. Here’s a chart of 160 active shooting incidents by year where 3 or more people (not counting the shooter) were killed:

Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 - 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. 2014

Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). A Study of
Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 – 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of
Justice, Washington D.C. 2014

As you can see, you were right: there really are more and more mass shootings.

To be sure, some people have a medical need for pharmaceuticals. But perhaps we’ve taken the lazy way, throwing pills at symptoms instead of dealing with root causes, and in the process, and likely unknowingly, invited increasing horrors upon ourselves.

Surely, gun safety has to consider the mental stability and competence of those who want guns. At the same time, we don’t have to invite greater mental instability by so often feeding our kids and young adults the very drugs that make them suicidal and violent. Maybe a pill isn’t always the answer. Maybe we should be directly dealing with mental health issues. Good idea, right?

There’s a problem with that: we’ve dramatically reduced the resources we deploy to deal with mental health. From a 2013 Forbes magazine article,

From 2009 to 2011, states cut mental health budgets by a combined $4 billion- the largest single combined reduction to mental health spending since de-institutionalization in the 1970s.

Ronald Reagan championed the curtailing of the “welfare state” and he cut funding for a slew of social programs, among them resources for treating mental illness. From Sociology.org,sidebar

.  .  .  Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness.

What are the special interests and business community that were satisfied by Reagan’s policy? The pharmaceutical industry at every level. For those folks, doing anything that drives the sale of more meds is good for business. The real needs of people with mental illness just isn’t their problem.

So, now that we have an undisputed, ever-increasing series of mass shootings, as well a clarity about what’s causing so many of them, what do you think we should do: give more pills with potentially lethal side effects in order to mask symptoms; or treat the real mental health issues of our people? Consider your answer to that question in the context of sending your kids off to school and wondering if their going to class will be a life-threatening act.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
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6 Responses to What Should We Do?
  1. Amy Tucker Reply

    I am a dean at a suburban Chicago high school. In the past two years, my school has cut back on mental health services for students. Last year they cut some psychologist and social worker positions and they cut even more this year. Now, unless a student has a 504 Plan or an IEP, they cannot even be seen for counseling. So, when a student who is typically just fine has a crisis and needs to talk to somebody, there is no one for him or her to see.

    To make matters worse, most schools have a full-time Student Assistance Program Coordinator (SAP). This person helps students with substance use issues. For example, she may refer families to various places for outside counseling or evaluations for their child; or she may run counseling groups for students returning from rehab; etc. We only had a part-time SAP coordinator last year and now this year we do not have one at all. The position was simply eliminated. As you can imagine, in a high school, there’s a pretty big need for that service, yet it isn’t available to our students.

    In sum, my district isn’t providing our adolescents with the mental health support that they need. It’s another example of how we are abandoning people with these needs.

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      Amy Tucker, Ed.D., is a dean of students at a public high school. She is an LCSW and holds several post graduate degrees.

  2. Robert Mark Reply

    I believe it’s actually worse than you say.

    To begin, we have parents (& teachers) who are ineffective at setting limits without physical (very negative) power struggles. Once a child feels like adults aren’t able to be adult, they slip into the next “easiest” solution – the waiting, greedy hands of a pharmaceutical industry that uses doctors as their pushers.

    I believe that Ritalin and its cousins are really the gateway drugs to uppers and downers that lead adolescents to withdraw and despair. That too often leads dads, and now, in the last 2 or 3 mass shootings, moms to take their kids out to shooting ranges ostensibly to give them a skill to raise their confidence (hogwash – it’s to avoid having to set another limit).

    So, yes the pharmaceutical industry, like tobacco, GMOs, and “energy” companies know what they’re doing, have seen the data but are marketing and lying to the public to line their pockets and our government goes along with pocketing a share of that dirty money and keeping the public in the dark. It’s been going on a long time and, like mushrooms, most people don’t want to see the light. All this results in wrongly treated adolescents and adults in a country that should be able to support talking cures, occasionally with minimal drug assistance for a short time. Research says this works.

  3. Bernie Dyme Reply

    Such an important post Jack.The most compelling point is not that drugs may not be the answer or even that they are dispensed too easily. Both are important things to consider but the biggest issue is that we are not investing enough resources in mental health services.

    Let’s even go beyond the shooting incidents to the costs in general of untreated mental health issues.It costs industry (and therefore us) millions each year in lost time, issues of productivity, safety, etc. And what makes this most difficult is that mental health issues are still considered shameful and people are afraid or embarrassed to talk about them.

    First, we need to de-stigmatize these problems and begin to open up the discussion. I wrote a blog a few years ago which is still relevant today about the issue of cost and stigma. Although it is related to things that you can do in the workplace, it may offer some statistics and ideas for how to deal with mental health in a proavtive way.

    http://blog.perspectivesltd.com/2012/04/10/mental-health-the-workplace/

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      Mr. Dyme is the CEO of Perspectives, Ltd., an employee assistance program company. He is an LCSW and serves on the National Alliance Network for Suicide Prevention Workplace Task Force. He can be contacted through http://www.PerspectivesLtd.com.