Dear Graduate MFTs and Counseling Students,
The news of the mass killings in Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School is heartbreaking and very disturbing. Everyone wants to know answers to the deluge of questions that arise in situations such as these. Some questions are simply factual - what happened? Other questions are theological - where was God? Still other questions are about understanding - why did this happen?
As we ourselves struggle with these and many other questions, I want to encourage you to think through this situation as a mental health professional. You are being trained in such a way that sets you apart from the rest of the population. You are gaining knowledge, insight, and more importantly, a way of understanding the world that is different that the average person. As a mental health professional, you have the responsibility to view events such as these through the lens of mental health.
Why does your understanding matter in situations like these? It matters because you are being trained not merely to treat people who struggle with their mental health, relational health, and spiritual health, but you are an advocate for truth when it comes to mental health.
The way in which stories such as these are reported are generally done without the understanding you have about mental health. Media reports events such as these in such a way as to capture a story. Sadly, the way in which the media capture stories often leaves so much overgeneralization completely uncontested. It could easily be understood from events such as these that mental illness is the cause of violence. There is simply no empirical evidence for such a claim. As a professional, you have the responsibility to speak about the truth of the link between mental health and violence.
Your voice matters in the social narrative of the mental health and violence. Mass violence is a complex issue that has complex origins that cannot and should not be pinned to mental health without a fuller and more robust understanding of how a mass killing could develop.
I would encourage you to think systemically about this event integrating biological, psychological, social, and theological antecedents. Take some time to understand this event. Get your facts straight and be able to talk accurately, coherently, and generously to others about this event and others like it. Defend those who struggle with mental health issues who have no violence in them (which is almost everyone) and help to reduce stigma.
Here are a couple links with some good information on mental health and violence.