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03-20 National Youth Violence Prevention Week: Focus on gunman’s mental health could have averted Florida high school massacre

National Youth Violence Prevention Week: Focus on gunman’s mental health could have averted Florida high school massacre

Not all violence stems from mental health problems, yet every macabre incident involving students forces the authorities to be more vigilant and take appropriate action. Broward County Sheriff officials apprehended Zachary Cruz (18), brother of the infamous school shooter Nicholas Cruz, on charges of transgressing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas compound on March 19, 2018. The younger brother revealed that he realized the grievousness of the massacre caused by his brother and had entered the compound to reflect on the incident.

News of 17 students being gunned down and 14 more critically injured as a result of gun violence on Feb. 14, 2018 shocked the entire country. The accused, Nicolas Cruz, whose request for bail was rejected now faces death penalty. This is not the first instance of mass shooting in America this year. There have been nearly 34 mass shootings including the Parkland High School incident. The recent one is the eighth gun assault incident within a span of seven weeks. This and other incidents involving gun violence highlight the pertinent issue of youth safety in the country.

Ignoring warnings proved to be costly

While the Florida high school incident brings back memories of a similar bloodshed in the past, it also forces one to think about the loopholes in mental health assessment of a suspected criminal. Cruz’s mother had frequently called 911 to complain of his violent behavior and the neighbors witnessed frequent visits by the law enforcement agencies during his growing-up years. They recounted how he would tease animals, throw rocks at cars and used abusive language to address his mother. Reports submitted in September 2016 by a psychological assessment service, identified as Henderson Behavioral Health, where Nicolas was undergoing treatment, revealed that the gunman was suffering from emotional problems and developmental delays. The recommendations were, however, ignored thus, allowing Cruz to legally obtain a firearm that was later used in the Stoneman Douglas massacre.

Cruz was described as lost and lonely by his family and schoolmates. Records from the state Department of Children and Families showed that Nicholas was afflicted with multiple disorders including depression, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anger management issues. He became more emotionally distraught when his mother passed away.

When Zachary was evaluated under the Baker Act, he revealed, “I don’t want to be alive. I don’t want to deal with this stuff.” He couldn’t understand why his brother committed such a crime, and felt somewhat responsible and guilty thinking he could have possibly prevented this. He admitted that he and his friends had bullied Nikolas when they were young and regrets having done that. He also wished that he was ‘nice’ to this brother. Zachary’s confession highlights how continuous bullying can result in feelings of exclusion and worthlessness, that can lead to a serious mental disorder or worsen an existing condition.

Raising awareness about youth violence

To raise awareness among both students and parents about how they can make their schools and community safer, the National Youth Violence Prevention Week is observed every year across the country. This year it is being observed from March 19-23. The event aims at informing people about their necessary role in averting incidents of violence among the American youth. Communities and organizations involved organize various activities demonstrating effective strategies to prevent unwarranted violence.

Safeguarding teen mental health a priority

While one does not refute the idea behind keeping guns for one’s own safety, it is important that teen behavioral health is taken into consideration before allowing them to possess one. Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently signed the Senate Bill 7026, the first gun control legislation, to tighten security in schools and provide mental health assistance like counseling services and safety programs. Under the new law, children less than 21 years would be restricted to purchase firearms. Additionally, the law enforcement officials are granted greater power now to take away ammunition from anyone they suspect to be suffering from a mental disorder.

The Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego specializes in providing behavioral health treatment for teens. All the patients are treated under the supervision of well-trained and qualified staff. For more information on various psychological disorders that usually affect teenagers and high school students, call our 24/7 helpline number or chat with our online counselors.

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