A Health Quiz: Mass violence
February 15, 2018
What disease process has escalated in the past six months?
What condition will cause more loss of life than occurred in the Vietnam war?
What known cause of life and limb has prohibitions against being studied or has seen a reduction in health financing?
What is a major cause of death and disability for the youngest Americans?
What condition produces death at a rate of about 4 persons per 100,000 in this country?
You know the answers.
If you were watching the news on Wednesday February 14 (Valentine’s Day), you saw the results of this condition. The answer to the health quiz above is mass shooting and gun violence. Another 16 innocent kids and a beloved teacher are dead in Florida. The teacher was their football coach. The people who were shot all have families and friends who will struggle with this situation for years to come.
Our country has successfully fought against tobacco use. We are beginning to come to terms with the realities of opioid addiction and associated death. The country seems to realize that keeping dangerous drugs out of the hands of vulnerable people makes sense. We have laws against drunk driving. The risk of driving while using a cell phone are well established. Public education around these issues is readily available and the factors cited are treated as serious public health concerns.
Yet, we continue to have ignorance about the relationships among mental health, gun violence, and mass death. Reasonable people hopefully think that this new tragedy will pull the country together toward a solution. And yet the health system, federal and local governments, science, the mental health system all fail to come together and work toward solutions. These “systems” are designed to be our safety net against danger and threat. They are failing us and failing our children.
Unfortunately, the rabid debate about gun control serves as a distraction from the underlying issues. Whether we think gun control is good or bad, whether or not shooters have a health issue or are terrorists, and whether these discussions are threat to the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution is irrelevant. In fact, these arguments may serve as barriers to forward movement. As with every other health condition, the answer lies in finding the root cause and determining the most effective treatment approaches, and then implementing them. With this complex condition of mass violence, it is likely that no one treatment, systemic change, or policy will remediate. We can be confident at this point, that doing nothing will reinforce the continuing arc of tragedy that we are currently experiencing.
As noted, there is no evidence that the current situation will change without intervention. Three of the ten worst mass shootings in history have occurred within the past six months. The disease is progressing. If this were a virus, we would feel reassured that the systems designed to protect us were working together.
As health providers how could we respond in a meaningful way?