It's happened again, this time in Chardon, Ohio. Another school shooting, another senseless tragedy, another list of young people who will never reach their 18th birthdays.
No one knows what was going through the mind of the 17-year-old accused killer, but a prosecutor described the young man as "...someone who's not well." The term "not well" has long been a euphemism to describe a person with mental health problems, a polite term still used to avoid the powerful stigma associated with depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
While people will continue to speculate about the young man's mental state, it should be noted that the connection between violence and mental disorders is a myth. What's not a myth is the toll that mental health conditions take on our nation. Mental disorders are common in the United States. An estimated one in five Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder every year. In fact, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S.
Mental illness also take a high toll on workplaces, costing businesses more than $79 billion a year, $63 billion of it in lost productivity. Each year, 217 million work days are completely or partially lost due to mental disorders.
After tragedies like this, I often hear from people who ask what can be done to prevent these types of violent outbursts. While no one knows what, if anything, could have been done to change the course of events in Ohio, there is a way for people to take proactive steps to potentially head off future crises.
Mental Health First Aid is a novel public education program that teaches people to recognize and respond to people with mental health problems or in a mental health crisis. The innovative program teaches people a five-step process to assess a situation, select and implement appropriate interventions, and help a person in crisis or developing the signs and symptoms of mental illness. The program equips people to provide initial help until appropriate professional, peer, or family support can be engaged. Participants also learn about the risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and addiction.
The program has not only expanded people's knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, but it has helped to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by helping people understand and accept mental illness as a medical condition.
More than 45,000 people nationwide are now certified in Mental Health First Aid.
I've heard countless stories about how the program has opened people's eyes about the realities of mental illnesses, while helping them do their jobs. Whether it's human resource professionals who learn how to manage a despondent, unproductive employee, or police officers who find new ways to approach suspects who barricade themselves in their homes, the training has given people from all walks of life the confidence and skills to help a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
Now, I understand that no program is a panacea for these horrific acts. But perhaps if Mental Health First Aid ever becomes as popular as First Aid or CPR, more people may be able to be proactive, intervene early, and get help for someone who is "not well" and who often does not seek help for themselves.