Communities must aid troubled youth through mental struggles

Don Heinzman
ECM Columnist

Even if firearms restrictions are approved, which will be a tough fight, leaders will be left wondering what more they can do to prevent a tragedy in their own community such as the one that struck Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14.

Why wait for the government to find a solution to attack such a complex problem and prevent a Newtown massacre?

There’s merit in trying to prevent young “different” troubled people in the community from doing the unthinkable.

One profile common to most of the shooters is they are young, intelligent, and in some cases loners craving for attention.

We’re struck by the fact that once again former students who attended school with the shooter didn’t know much about him. One former classmate said, he wasn’t connected to other kids. Another said he was “weird since he was five years old” and another said, “He obviously was not well.”

Perhaps one strategy for a community and a school system is to get involved with the so-called “different” students and help them through their mental health issues.

Is it possible for a community to mobilize resources and maybe even assign mentors to the so-called “different” students?

High school officials know who the troubled kids are. Terrence Bizal, principal at Elk River High School, says school officials need to identify those troubled and different students, some with mental health issues, consult with the parents, create a plan, work with mental health therapists in the schools and involve the community.

Rotary Clubs have Strive programs, where clubs work all year long with senior students who need help to graduate. It is having amazing results.

The local YMCA’s Boys and Girls Clubs and other youth support groups could be involved in supporting the school’s plan for the troubled student.

One area for the community to consider is sheltering homeless students.  In the Anoka-Hennepin school district last year 600 students were homeless part of that year.

In Anoka-Hennepin, 50 churches are willing to work with families in need.

Close-in suburban school districts partner with local and county agencies to help troubled students.

Dr. Joseph Meuwissen, a school psychologist at Bloomington Jefferson High School, says classes like shop and auto mechanics are being cut or offerings reduced – just the kind of classes to which the “different” students would be attracted.

It’s asking too much of a school system to solve all the problems of the “different” students, especially now when school budgets are being cut along with the number of counselors.

If the total community were to help the disturbed students, perhaps it could prevent a Newtown.

In this case it does take a village to raise the student with mental health issues, without labeling them and maintaining their privacy and dignity.

Brettwebb Mitchell, a pastor, writer and consultant who specializes in parenting issues, offers a foundational three lessons we can learn from the tragedy in Connecticut.

1. Along with gun control we need to invest in community-wide counseling services that help individuals and our families who are on the edge of despair. Such counseling services have been cut by governments through austerity maneuvers.

2. We need to strengthen friendship programs in and out of school that teach us to live with others who are not like us.

3. We will need to broaden and enhance the joy of living with the increasing diversity of our human gatherings rather than propagating fear of the stranger. For if we do not do so, if we ignore all these strands that contribute to making young innocents lives of today into killers tomorrow, we live on the precipice of an inescapable storm, a historical tsunami of violence that will  engulf us in ways we cannot imagine.