Remember the shooting in Texas?

By the time you read this — a month later? A week later? Perhaps just two days later — what happened in Sutherland Springs will be a fading memory (where is Sutherland Springs, again?). We'll have mostly forgotten those who lost their lives and why they aren't here anymore. We won't remember that the youngest victim was 18 months old. Or that the oldest was 71. Or that an entire family of nine was nearly completely wiped out in the blink of an eye.


It wasn't always this way. In April 1999, when 13 students and teachers were shot and killed at Columbine High School, we didn't forget for months. There were articles, speeches, protests, magazine covers, and calls for legislation. There was even a documentary. It came out three years later. We remembered so well that documentary made over $50 million.

Two years ago, a Washington Post investigation of Google Trends found that our interest in mass shootings now lasts about a month, sometimes even less.

That study was prompted by an attack at a community college in Oregon in October 2015, which of course, almost no one — except those immediately touched by it — really remembers.

We've already moved on from the shooting in Las Vegas. That was a little more than a month ago. Cable news lost most of its interest in 10 days.  

And Columbine? The former fifth-deadliest mass shooting in modern American history is no longer even in the top 10. Five of the ten deadliest gun massacres in American history have occurred in the past five years. Two have occurred in the past two months.

There will be other news to distract us. There will be Election Day drama. There will be frightening violence in the Middle East. Donald Trump will have said something bizarre about samurai warriors.

We will have performed the entire public grief cycle in record time. Thousands will have risen up and demanded stricter gun laws. Gun rights advocates will have argued we should "enforce the gun laws we already have" and asked "are you going to ban knives and fists next?" We will have found out about the shooter's history of domestic violence. Conservative politicians will have blamed the shooting on mental health. Liberal commentators will have accused conservative politicians of hypocrisy on mental health. Responsible gun owners will take umbrage at being lumped in with killers. Chris Murphy will have written a righteously indignant viral tweet. There will have been a rumor that a good guy with a gun raced in to save the day. That rumor will have turned out to be only partially true. The parents and families of people killed in previous mass shootings will have trudged back out to share their stories of the worst days of their entire lives in the hope that maybe something will be different this time.

But that's likely coming to an end, as you read this. Or it's already over. Life is probably going on. We're already worried about something new. And we're bracing ourselves for the next one.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

As the drumbeat of bad news gets faster, we feel our ability to be horrified slipping away. We notice ourselves reluctantly, but inevitably adjusting to a reality where watching two dozen people die in church is normal. We might even hear 10 people are killed at the office, in a park, or a baseball game and think, "That's not that many."

"There are some people who just sort of start to let it in that this is part of the world that we're living in," Sharon Chirban, a Boston-based psychologist who treats patients suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress, told me over the phone. "And in some ways, it's probably more adaptive to probably be thinking that way."

It's how we go on with our lives without digging ourselves deeper into a pit of despair with each new mass shooting. In some ways, it's healthier to forget.

"People sort of restore what's called 'functional denial,'" she says. "We need that in order to basically live without acute anxiety."

It's an awful Catch-22. If we allow ourselves to grow a little less surprised each time this happens, we can't be hurt when it inevitably does again. But lose our ability to be shocked and with it goes our drive to fight for change.

And that's the scariest part.

Most of us (around two-thirds of all Americans) don't own a gun. Still fewer of us actually carry one. We'd rather risk random injury or death than live in such a state of fear that we feel the need to tote around a deadly weapon at all times. Yet, there are millions of others for whom owning a firearm or two or 20 is an integral part of who they are. Maybe we can't all agree on exactly how to solve this problem and maybe we never will. But there are a few things an overwhelming number of us want to change. 90% of us want background checks for all gun sales. 79% support banning bump fire stocks that allow semiautomatic rifles to approximate the function of a fully-automatic weapon. Nearly 60% of us want to ban assault weapons, the kind used in nearly every mass shooting of the past decade.

No one knows how we get that done in the face of the inertia born by a cycle of a million "more important" things and the grinding, scorched-Earth opposition that will inevitably follow. But if we shrug and throw up our hands, we never will.

On Monday morning, writer Clint Smith wrote that he can't help think about what the victims were doing the morning before the shooting. Ordinary things. Human things. Having no idea what was about to happen.

It’s a tragic illustration of what can be ripped away in a split second by an asshole with an axe to grind and a semiautomatic rifle on his hip.

Perhaps that’s the only way to shock ourselves back into reality. To remember that this didn’t used to be normal. It's still not normal. And can and should be stopped.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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