To The Editor:
The devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School will never be fully understood. We read articles and hear interviews that attempt to make sense of an event such as this, but at best, these explanations are incomplete.
We have all heard the theories: lack of parental bonding, mental illness that manifests in uncontrollable rage, easy access to guns. The list goes on. But how should we respond here in the St. Louis region in the aftermath of this horrific incident?
As five of our region’s local taxing authorities for children’s services, we exist to expand mental health services and improve access to mental health services that benefit children in each of our jurisdictions. Here are some strategies that we suggest for coping with the Sandy Hook incident:
Pay special attention to your children as they process this incident — they may need your reassurance, a listening ear or other avenues to express their feelings.
Limit the time you allow your children (especially younger ones) to see/hear media coverage of the incident.
Realize that this incident may cause heightened anxiety in those around you and make allowances whenever possible.
Recognize — and be gentle — if you experience heightened anxiety yourself.
Be aware that it will take time for people to recover from their reactions to this incident (and each person recovers uniquely).
Don’t hesitate to request help from mental health or other helping professionals such as educators or clergy if you need extra support. Many schools are coordinating efforts on their own, so parents may find resources through their schools that are specific to their children’s situations.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a difficult child, or child with mental illness and want information on emergency behavioral health responses, NAMI is a helpful resource, http://www.nami.org.
If you don’t know whom to call locally, dial the United Way’s 2-1-1 help line or the Behavioral Health Response (BHR) at (314) 469-6644. Nationally, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has created some specific talking points for parents on restoring a sense of safety after a school shooting, on kids and guns, and on other topics at http://www.aacap.org.
We know too well the stigma of mental illness, but we urge parents to not be afraid to seek help for their families.
This incident reveals in stark terms, the importance of making high quality mental health services available to those who need it before a crisis occurs. The tragedy at Sandy Hook shows us how critical these services are — and will continue to be — to Newtown, to our region and across the country.
City of St. Louis
St. Louis Mental Health Board, Jama Dodson, Executive Director, 314-535-6964, www. stlmhb.com
St. Charles County
Community & Children’s Resource Board, Bruce Sowatsky, Executive Director, 636-939-6200, www.stcharlescountykids.org
St. Louis County
St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund, Julie Leicht, Interim Executive Director, 314-615-5850, www.KeepingKidsFirst.org
Franklin County Resource Board, Annie Schulte, Executive Director, 636-234-7731, www.franklincountykids.org
Lincoln County Resource Board, Becky Hoskins, Executive Director, 636-528-2490, www.lincolncountykids.org
P.S. In 2014, one of the important benefits of the Affordable Care Act is that health insurance sold to individuals and small groups must include coverage for mental and behavioral health services.