Some of children had mental issues and they were shunned, ignored. There was another general threat that dashed through the lives of Cho, Klebold and Harris. They were “outsiders”. They were quiet. They kept to themselves. They were “different” by the way they dressed and acted.
So why can’t people learn when such behavior might be the sign of simmering anger, resentment and a penchant for violence? We’ve already learned that many violent people begin by torturing and killing animals.
Near the end of his life, Cho only seemed to have one friend, and when he began acting in a way that made her nervous, she dropped him fast. Warnings about him from fellow students helped in her decision. It was just another negative event in his life.
Yet, his fellow dorm members seemed to accept him into their midst, despite his oddness. Cho, on the other hand, was content to isolate himself from the crowd – to be alone. This was his social anxiety disorder at work. It was his way of protecting himself from humiliation, embarrassment and stress. At this point, we don’t know what other mental illness he might have had, but schizophrenia has been tossed around lately.
Klebold and Harris had each other, to feed off each other’s anger and resentment, to plan their revenge on those who they believed had wronged them in some way. Together, they steered clear of their fellow students, opted out of team events and social gatherings.
Their peers saw them as odd, a duo who liked to dress in black, who avoided any close encounters with other students. They were loners who were isolated from the rest.
Mental Illness and Education
Could the other students have done more? Would it have helped if they better understood mental illness? Could they have made a difference by taking more interest in or an alternate approach to Cho, Klebold and Harris?
It’s understandable that the other students would not get close to them because their actions did not encourage friendship. It is also understandable why students would fear Cho and warn others about him.
It’s now revealed that Cho had several issues in his background that contributed to his mental illness. His parents believed he was autistic, yet he proved to be intelligent. He did not speak well. He was “different” because of his race. He was bullied. And who knows what else he had to deal with during his short life. What demons occupied his mind and where did they come from?
What home life did the three have? Was it a loving environment? Was it a negative or a positive one? Did it encourage open communication where the boys could discuss their concerns, their worries, their issues without fear of retribution or misunderstanding?
For decades, mental illness was a condition people avoided. If they had family members with a mental illness, they were shunned, hidden from society. They were an embarrassment.
Fortunately, much of that stigma has been removed, but there lingers a general fear of people with mental illness. The fear is mostly based on the lack of understanding and knowledge.
When we don’t grasp why a person is acting a certain way, they make us uncomfortable. We can’t help but wonder what’s going on in their minds. We ask ourselves whether that person just prefers to be alone or are they dangerous.
As teens who are looking to enjoy life, we tend to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable or nervous. We avoid people who ‘bring us down’, who are negative, sad, depressed, angry.
Mental illness is a convoluted subject with many theories. Even therapists and mental health researchers don’t know everything. They can’t tell whether a person will become violent, although they might have some inclination as to which conditions are more prone to it.
Despite all that we now know about mental illness, it’s hard to believe that we still know so little. Therapists study and practice for years before they fully understand all the ins and outs, how to differentiate one condition from another, and how to predict their actions. Clearly, the general public can’t be expected to understand as much as the professionals, but there is a level that they can reach.
In light of the increasing incidents of violence, schools are now working hard to figure out how to protect their students from another outbreak, but no one seems able to agree on the proper solution. They’re discussing such things as putting locks on classrooms and dorm buildings.
They’re implementing a better emergency alert system so they can let everyone know when there’s a problem. Part of that will include teaching the students what to do when it does happen.
But these are just Band-Aid solutions. The real solutions lie in spotting the problems before they escalate into violent behavior.
How do we do that?
We make people more aware of signs and symptoms that can indicate a student might need help. Set in place a confidential system for reporting concerns. Put together an investigation team (nurses, therapists and counselors) who have a thorough knowledge of such matters and can do a proper examination and take appropriate steps to find solutions for the individual.
Educate parents in teen behavior patterns so they can spot when their child is not acting normally. Teach them how to approach and respond to their children in a proactive way that does not alienate the teen.
Parents need to understand the development of teen growth – what they go through as they adapt to their new world as adults and leave behind their childhoods. In this method, they will be better able to identify when things have gone twisted and intervention is essential. There’s much to be educated about parenting, and mental illness and mental health is a large part that seems to be omitted.