Feb 21, 2013

Notes on the PBS After Newtown coverage

UPDATED -- see below. I watched the Frontline show about the Newtown shooter’s family life, and the Nova show on rampage killers.

I’m not going to criticize a mother who was murdered in her sleep by the son she adored.

Yes, she made some mistakes. She chose to keep the care of her son to herself instead of exposing him to social situations. It looks like she declined support from parents who faced similar challenges. And she went target shooting with her son. None of these choices deserves a death sentence.

You have to worry about kids who are overwhelmed by anxiety whenever they encounter the world. Temple Grandin was interviewed on NPR several years back, describing the intense anxiety that plagued her as she attained young adulthood. She said she would have committed suicide years ago if it were not for the antidepressants she took. The Newtown shooter was a lot like the Virginia Tech shooter, a person overwhelmed by anxiety and fear who could not communicate with the world.

There was nothing new to readers of this blog in the Nova special. People on the path to suicide experience overwhelming pain. They fixate on a course of action. They experience tunnel vision. They might include anything in their suicide plan, including mass murder or suicide by cop.  In one suicide this past week, a singer even executed her dog.


I really liked the "path to violence" special, especially its emphasis on open communications as the key to school safety. Systematically looking for and detecting leaked signals of harmful intent is  critical for safety in schools and communities. The only way that happens is by people showing up, talking and communicating. Even the resource officers were there as part of the school community, not as the armed guards of the more paranoid pro-gun propagandists. Do we really want any of our law enforcement officers to be mere gun-toting thugs?

The other aspects of designing school security are just as important. Perhaps we do need more of a fortress mentality in our public buildings, now that mass killing of children is a contagious thinkable outcome of suicide.

The other takeaway is the disconnect between the mental health and other public safety systems. They do not work well together. The interfaces need to be improved. Many systems think in terms of units like "cases" and "incidents" -- but in the wide world we deal with "people" who can "do literally anything."

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