Entries in School Shooting (5)


Newtown Shooting Puts Spotlight on US Mental Health Care -- Again

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It has not yet been confirmed whether Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with mental illness, but the 20-year-old, who murdered his mother, then drove to a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults, has again shined the spotlight on care for the mentally ill in the United States, and has many asking whether yet another mass shooting could have been prevented.

Despite four shooting rampages since President Obama took office in 2009, mental health care continues to be hampered by budget cuts, closures, battles with insurers and stigma, doctors said.

"We have very good treatments for mental illness that are highly effective," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association.  "But they're not widely available.  People don't have ready access to them."

Since the recession forced budget cuts in 2009, state general funding for mental health care has decreased by an estimated $4.35 billion nationwide, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, which serves 6.8 million patients a year.

Since 2009 alone, 3,222 psychiatric hospital beds are no longer available to patients, and another 1,249 may disappear soon because of proposed closures, according to the association.  That's about 10 percent of all state psychiatric hospital beds gone in about three years, said Dr. Robert Glover, the association's executive director, who said he'd never been more worried.

"This is the worst I've seen it," Glover, who's worked in mental health for almost five decades, said about the cuts.  "They are painful, and unbelievably tough.  I am incredibly worried about future cuts with the fiscal cliff and state budgets not getting better."

One in five American adults reported suffering from mental illness within the past year, with one in 20 reporting serious mental illness that resulted in "functional impairment," according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's latest annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report.

Despite its prevalence, mental illness is something patients and those around them have tried to ignore dating as far back as World War I, when soldiers were called cowards for showing signs of what we now know was post traumatic stress disorder, Lieberman said.

Today, the largest mental health facilities are for inmates at the Los Angeles County Jail in California, Cook County Jail in Illinois and Rikers Island in New York, Lieberman said.

According to the Bureau for Justice Statistics, 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners and 64 percent of jail inmates had mental health problems in 2006.  Between 10 percent and 20 percent of those with mental health problems had symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions or hallucinations.

Most mentally ill patients aren't dangerous, but it's very difficult for psychiatrists to predict who will become violent, said Dr. Carol Bernstein, a psychiatry professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The high number of prisoners with mental illness is a mark of the failures of the current mental health care climate, because the mentally ill wind up behind bars before they can get treatment, Lieberman said.

"We haven't provided these people with what they need," said Lieberman.  "What we're seeing here now is, 'Uh, oh people have mental health problems.  We need to pay attention to mental illness now.'  But it's a too little, too late kind of reaction to this. ...Whatever it takes is worth it, but this is kind of late in the game."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Shooting Survivors Should Be in School, Psychologist Says

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Connecticut school officials' plan to get survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting back together at a new school is exactly the right decision, says a youth trauma psychologist.

Authorities announced on Monday that the Newtown, Conn., elementary school where 26 people, including 20 children, were gunned down, will be closed "indefinitely," but Sandy Hook students and staff could be back in classes at nearby Chalk Hill School in Monroe, Conn., by this week.

"It's a good idea that kids go back to school as soon as possible and normalize and get...accustomed to a routine," said psychologist Susan Lipkins.  "You want to make it as familiar and easy as possible so the transition is as smooth as possible for teachers, faculty and the children."

Most children do not understand death; they understand that their parents and teachers are upset and draw on those emotions, Lipkins said.  She believes it was the right decision to have the students return to classes, especially before the Christmas break, because it will help them adapt to the new situation.

"If they didn't have school this week that really would give the children too much time to get accustomed to being at home...and it would increase their likelihood of developing phobias," she said.

Lipkins also agreed with the decision to have Sandy Hook remain closed because going back to the scene of the massacre would have been "too traumatic" for everyone.

"I think that the scene is too extreme and that it would be very hard to erase the memories," Lipkins said.  "It's really good for everybody to have their normal routine but to have those physical manifestations would make it probably more stressful."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Siblings of Sandy Hook Victims Face Trauma, Survivor's Guilt

Douglas Healey/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Six-year-old Arielle Pozner was in a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School when Adam Lanza burst into the Newtown, Conn., school with his rifle and handguns.  Her twin brother, Noah, was in a classroom down the hall.

Noah Pozner was killed by Lanza, along with 19 other children at the school, and six adults.  Arielle and other students' siblings survived.

"That's going to be incredibly difficult to cope with," said Dr. Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York.  "It is not something we expect her to cope with today and be OK with tomorrow."

As the community of Newtown begins to bury the young victims of the school shooting on Monday, the equally young siblings of those killed will only be starting to comprehend what happened to their brothers and sisters.

"Children this young do experience depression in a diagnosable way, they do experience post-traumatic stress disorder.  Just because they're young, they don't escape the potential for real suffering," said Rahil Briggs, a child psychologist and professor at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Arielle and other survivor siblings could develop anxiety or other emotional reactions to their siblings' death, including "associative logic," where they associate their own actions with their sibling's death, Howard said.

"This is when two things happen, and (children) infer that one thing caused the other.  (Arielle) may be at risk for that type of magical thinking, and that could be where survivor's guilt comes in.  She may think she did something, but of course she didn't," Howard said.

Children in families where one sibling has died sometimes struggle as their parents are overwhelmed by grief, Howard noted.  When that death is traumatic, adults and children sometimes choose not to think about the person or the event to avoid pain.

"With traumatic grief, it's really important to talk about and think about the children that died, not to avoid talking and thinking about them because that interferes with the grieving process," Howard said.

Children may also have difficulty understanding why their deceased brother or sister is receiving so much -- or so little -- attention, according Briggs.

"I think one of the most challenging questions we can be faced with as parents is how to 'appropriately' remember a child that is gone.  So much that can go wrong with that," Briggs said. "You have the child who is fortunate enough to escape, who thinks 'Why me?  Why did my brother go?'  But if you don't remember the sibling enough the child says 'it seems like we've forgotten my brother.'"

"They may even find themselves feeling jealous of all the attention the sibling seems to be receiving," Briggs said.

Parents and other adults in the family's support system need to be on alert, watching the child's behavior, she said.  Children could show signs of withdrawing, or seeming spacy or in a daze.  They could also seem jumpy or have difficulty concentrating in the wake of a traumatic event.

It will be vital in the next weeks for parents of surviving siblings to return the surviving child to a normal routine, including regular meals, sleeping and physical habits, Howard and Briggs said.

If a child's appetite or sleeping habits change, or if they show any regressive behaviors, including wetting the bed or trouble separating from their parents, it may time to seek professional help, experts said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teachers, Students Grappling with School Security After Conn. Shooting

John Coletti/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Teachers and students across America are confronting the issue of safety and security in the classroom today after a weekend of grappling with the deadly massacre at a grade school in Newtown, Conn.

"It's very important that we address their concerns [about safety]," teacher Lauren Marrocco of New Jersey said.  "I think my students will have a lot of questions and, as adults, we don't have answers to those questions."

Near Newtown, one teacher's weekend homework for students was simple: Go home and hug your loved ones.  In California, another educator wrote, "I'll be locking my [classroom] door this week to make my students feel safer."

For many, Monday morning's school drop-off will be a difficult but necessary start to the day.

"I'm not too worried about her, I'm more worried about how I feel and how I'm going to let go of her hand when she gets on the bus," a parent told ABC News.

In Fairfax County, Va., schools sent notice that they would be upping security, not for any specific threat but to alleviate anxiety.

Dr. Steven Marans, head of the National Center of Children Exposed to Violence at Yale University's Child Study Center, said that falling into normal routines can provide comfort.

"One of the ways of demonstrating that their lives are secure and reliable is to have them disrupted as little as possible," he said.

Marans says it is also important not to avoid discussing Friday's events, where 20 children and six adults were killed before Adam Lanza took his own life.

"We need to acknowledge that we all have big feelings," he said.  "This is very sad.  This is an opportunity for kids to put into words what their thinking about."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Shooting Trauma Affects Kids, Adults Differently

Douglas Healey/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Traumatic events such as the deadly  shooting at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, can affect children and adults in different ways.
Adults often gorge on media images -- trying to glean facts, gain perspective, to make sense out of a senseless event.

But for children, it can have the opposite effect.

After the deadly rampage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., psychologists and pediatricians are strongly urging parents to shield their school-age children from too much exposure to the news.

"For really young children, they can be confused and think that this is happening over and over and over again," said Jamie Howard, a clinical child psychologist and trauma expert at the Child Mind Institute in New York. "They don't necessarily know that it's on a loop, And that would be really scary.

"For older kids who are around 8, 9, 10, they might sort of be inundated with anxiety and people's fear and people's stress," Howard said, "and it could overwhelm their capacity to cope."

Elementary school is supposed to be a safe, innocent place, but the Sandy Hook shooting shatters that notion for parents.

If children are old enough to ask questions, instead of talking to the kids, parents are advised to try just listening.

"Start by asking them: What do you know? What are you feeling?" Howard said. "Ask open-ended questions so that you can start from there. A lot of times we think they want to know lots and lots of information that adults want to know. But children don't necessarily have the same questions or have the same needs."

When they do ask questions, parents shouldn't hide their emotions -- but experts warn parents to try not to be overly emotional in front kids because they get their cues from grown-ups.

"We look to grown-ups to interpret situations for us," Howard said. "It's called social referencing. It's what kids do. So we are all sort of being watched. And kids are looking to us to let them know: How should we be reacting to this?"

It's understandable that parents are emotional, but Howard suggests grown-ups should share our sadness and our fears with other adults and not let children eavesdrop on those conversations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio