There has been an average of 156 school shootings per week since 2013. Although the underlying causes vary, one thing can be said for certain, many of the shooters had some form of mental illness. Arguments have been made that stricter gun control could help prevent such traumatic incidents, yet many people fail to realize that the true problem that needs to be addressed.
The fact that shooters have access to guns only scratches the surface as to why school shootings have become more prominent. Media coverage of such dreadful incidents could increase the exposure of shootings to troubled teens, and thus, influence them to commit such actions.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s piece for The New Yorker, “How School Shootings Spread,” theorized that school shooters have become part of a “riot” that was initiated by one of the first school shootings, Columbine. Similar to how a riot starts out with one person or a group then grows, he believes that school shootings will follow a similar trend.
Gladwell used 17 year old John LaDue as an example. LaDue, like many other school shooters, was influenced by the actions of other school shooters. Specifically, LaDue stated, “my number one idol is Eric Harris [Columbine shooter] … I think I just see myself in him. Like he would be the kind of guy I’d want to be with. Like, if I knew him, I just thought he was cool,” according to Gladwell.
LaDue was not suspected to have any history of mental illness, but upon further analysis by psychiatrists, he was diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder. LaDue did not know how to socially express his interests. He had a YouTube channel devoted to exploring explosives. If Columbine had not occurred, would that have changed the way LaDue acted?
A recent study that was published to the Public Library of Science in July analyzed the impact that social media coverage had on school shootings. It was found that media coverage of suicides and homicides appear to increase the risk of similar events in the community, due to the coverage planting the seeds of ideation in at-risk individuals to commit similar acts.
That being the case, the way that we address mental illness needs to be more effective. The illnesses of others should not be publicized in a way that that vulnerable individuals can idolize them.
It is difficult to tell whether someone is being consumed by a mental disorder, psychological or social stressor. Mental illness is more apparent to the people that the sufferers grow up with or interact with on a daily basis. Yet, many parents and friends are not aware of the distress that their loved ones are in. Generally, mental disorders do not result in an increased risk of violence, so they are not attended to with a sense of urgency.
The most developmentally important part of anyone’s life is their childhood. It is a very sensitive time period where their environment and interactions with others govern how an individual grows up socially. It is a time period that parents need to tend to very delicately. Exposure to trauma and abuse could manifest itself as depression and anxiety as the individual gets older. This doesn’t inherently lead to violence, but seems inextricably tied to it in the case of school shootings. Schools and parents are important because they have the opportunity to initially address the problems.
Should we seek to reduce the incidence of these shootings, and the suffering of those with mental illnesses, we as a society must do a better job of identifying and treating them.