After Sandy Hook

Last week's tragic shooting in Connecticut left us all shaken. It is still difficult to watch the news reports bringing more details about the young victims without getting a lump in the throat.

Alongside the collective shock and sadness at the senseless deaths of so many innocent children have come many discussions about why this happened and how America or any country could avoid it.

Many important issues are being raised in the aftermath of Sandy Hook - from gun control, to a culture of violence, to school security measures. One of the most important issues is mental illness and how it is handled in America, or anywhere else.

Since Adam Lanza and his mother are both dead, we may never get a full picture of his mental state leading up to the shootings, but it is safe to say that something was abnormal within his brain.

Many editorials may speculate that mental illness is used as an excuse when bad parenting, video games or exposure to violence are the true culprits. You don't have to read very far down a comments section of any news story to get strong opinions on the topic.

It is sad to see the level of misinformation still out there when it comes to mental illness. While the presence of serious mental illness certainly does not lessen the tragedy of needless death and violence, it does point us toward a way to prevent similar situations in the future.

We need to be able to effectively diagnose and treat mental illness as it develops in young people. Parents and families should not be left to deal with these very difficult issues on their own.

Early intervention programs for children displaying symptoms, support for parents, and accessible community based mental health services within a coordinated national mental health program could go a long way toward getting help for young people before they are in a desperate state.

As always, we must also continue to raise awareness about mental illness. It is real and not the result of parenting choices, diet or character weakness. Just as diabetes, cancer or heart disease, mental illness must be recognized and managed. With appropriate treatment, lives are saved.

Should it be more difficult to access guns? Sure. Is school security important? Yes. Does parenting make a difference in the lives of our kids? Of course. All of these things contribute to a healthy society and we must not forget that in a healthy society, a sick person should be able to get help.

This holiday season, I know we will all be holding our loved ones a little closer and thinking of the American families who have just lost so much. I hope that we will also let our own government know that mental health care should be a priority here in Canada.


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