Friday, 21 December 2012

Guns and Roses...

Picture courtesy (via Google Images)
I may be wrong, but the Connecticut massacre, on Friday, 14th December 2012, seems to have had even more publicity than many previous mass killings. Perhaps it is because of the fact that this has involved kindergarten infants and their bravely protective teachers, and that it has painfully and poignantly made us all feel the grief to a much greater degree. I felt myself choking up in my own grief, thinking all the while of my own grandchildren, whilst I watched some documentary background on the whole thing the other night.

Equally, but perhaps more uncomfortably, it is not difficult to understand the utterly heart-wrenching position of some parents, who, in life's random deck of cards, are dealt the hand of a child with a mental illness and all the side effects of this condition, both on the child and on their family and wider community. The USA's crisis with mental illness is also easy to understand, and is clearly illustrated in this article, but it is not just confined to the USA. It is everywhere in the world.

The response to the Connecticut killings has, as ever, polarised commentators, politicians arguments and discussion. The anti- versus the pro-gun lobbies are lost in their own arguments about whether or not tighter regulation of firearms is a relevant solution. It does not surprise me, however, that not enough has been made of the discussion about mental illness, quite possibly because it is so often a taboo subject, particularly amongst the better educated and more affluent middle class. 

Let me explain that statement. 

When I point a finger at the 'middle classes' I do so with reservation, but not to be 'accusing', and not just as a reference to the natural process of denial, in a social class for which mental issues could be deemed an 'inconvenience'. There are of course those who have had to endure any number of experiences with children suffering from some form of mental illness, whether this be a less severe form of depression or the most serious mental illness such as that - and this is an assumption, prior to the official conclusion - which it would seem very likely affected the ill-fated young man responsible for the killings in Connecticut. I would, in fact, argue that mental illness knows no class boundaries. It is just as likely, if not more so, to affect the less well educated, the less privileged in society. However, I defer to the educated, affluent middle class, because they are more likely to have the ability to lobby, to articulate and to influence the powers that be, to help create a seed change in attitudes toward mental illness. It is only our denial, our inability to cope with mental illness, that causes this block to genuine progress. Yes, it is very hard to come to terms with mental illness, when it is so close to home.

If I were to summarise my feelings about this disaster, it would be in this way... 

Unlike the central theme of media coverage, which seems to have been focussed solely on the gun laws, I maintain that there is no one single cause that needs to be looked at; no one single course of action, on its own, that needs to be taken in response to Connecticut and all the other killings; there are, in fact, several things that need to happen in parallel. Let me propose at least two of those things.

The first is not only that more resource and education is needed to create a wider and more thorough public awareness, understanding and, perhaps the most important objective of all, acceptance that mental illness is a fact of life. Whilst improving how everyone in society can learn to cope with mental illness is very important, to improve it's treatment by the medical professions is equally so. I have personally witnessed the best signs of the use of CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) lead crisis teams to support the individual as well as their family, which is a logical extension of an holistic approach to treatment that enables, empowers the service user as well as the people close to them to assist in the healing process and thereby reduce dependence on the pharmacy as well as the paid professionals. It would appear, on the face of it, that there is a gradual change in the establishment's attitude to the treatment of mental illness, although, from some perspectives, there is still a long way to go! The following article, written and presented in his previous life by friend and Poet, Peter Wilkin, is a revelation to me: "A Feminine Economy of Caring: Gifts and Wrapping". There is also a follow-up article, by Peter Wilkin, that appeals to the poetic as well as to the logical spiritVale of tears or Vale of Soulmaking? Keats’ gnostic vision as an alternative to mainstream mental healthcare’. 

There is another trend emerging. Organisations that promote understanding of mental illness are gaining an increasing presence, particularly with the aid of social media. There are a number of front running organisations like Rethink as well as personalities like Alastair Campbell (search for articles in his blog on the subject of 'mental health' and you'll find plenty), successfully raising public awareness in this way. 

Meanwhile, back in Newtown, Connecticut...

The second thing that must happen, whether or not you are a supporter of the Second Amendment (that part of the United States' Bill of Rights, which protects the rights of people to keep and bear arms), is an old favourite logical argument of mine. Given my scientific training, if you have any understanding at all of the statistical concepts of chance, probability and risk, it cannot be denied, that, whilst tighter firearm regulations will not necessarily remove the risk of these incidents altogether, the irrefutable logic for me is that reducing the ability for everyone to get hold of guns and ammunition, restricting access to firearms, simply must result in a reduction of the probability, the risk of such incidents recurring in the future. The number of firearms in circulation and available to be used, must be proportional to the number of victims of gun crime. If this is not obvious, then please explain to me why? It is a matter of proportion: getting things in proportion to their potential effect on an outcome.

It is unlikely to be coincidence that, following a massacre, at the Scottish Primary School in Dunblane, of sixteen infants and one adult in March, 1996, and the banning in the UK, one year later of handguns, particularly those used in this incident, which were magazine loading semi-automatic weapons, no subsequent such incidents, at least at a school, have recurred. The only subsequent incident, the Cumbria shootings in 2010, was marked by a different set of circumstances, not involving school children, albeit still using guns, but not handguns.

I therefore do not believe that tighter restriction in the availability and ownership of firearms cannot enable a reduction in the risk of such incidents recurring in the United States. Nor can I believe that a sizeable number of United States citizens, particularly parents of small children, don't feel the same way. It may only be those, perhaps with a vested interest in the firearms industry (understandable), as well as those absorbed by the dogma and 'tradition' and almost sacramental belief in the Second Amendment, who oppose such restrictions, and who, I believe, are blinded by that conviction. The Second Amendment, like any law or regulation, anywhere in the world, was written and constituted by people; it can by altered, like any law in any land, by people.

It is people, their mental health, safety and security of their families and communities, which are the most important features of civilised life on earth. So come on, Mr President Obama, have courage to bring about significant change; sow the seeds of such change as could have far reaching consequences, for the benefit of mankind. Let us put down the guns and pick up the red rose 
that represents the love of humanity. 

(The poem, "Rose Petal", which I wrote eighteen months ago, in response to another, but different signal, seems more than particularly poignant in light of these circumstances).