12/17/2012 07:34 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?': Thoughts After the Newtown Massacre

"Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?"

The lyrics in this Pete Seeger anti-war song from the '60s ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?") then guide us through the marriages of these girls to young men (all someone's child) who would be called to war and to the graveyards that would be their fate. "When will they ever learn?" These gone soldiers in graveyards everywhere would give rise to the flowers that began the first refrain. "When will we ever learn?" the song plaintively concludes.

Mesmerized by the coverage of the Newtown massacre, I could not get this tune (from my younger days) out of my head. More carnage. Only this time, even younger children -- not even young men, but innocents who would never come of age.

President Obama, at the Newtown High School gym on Sunday evening, Dec. 16, 2012, said enough is enough -- with deep compassion and conviction. We can't tolerate more graves, and more consoling of families whose loved ones need not have died. What can we do to spare us all more grief, to let flowers grow in front yards and not graveyards?

The Huffington Post ran a deeply chilling piece on the same day called "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother: A Mom's Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America." It was written by Liza Long, the mother of a boy, who wrote:

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am James Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys -- and their mothers -- need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy ... it's time to talk about mental illness.

This mother describes a bright but deeply troubled young man whose fuse is getting shorter and shorter. He threatens his mother with a knife, says he will kill himself if expectations are placed upon him, and assaults his mother when she tries to get him hospitalized for treatment of a mental illness. Like too many parents, her ordeal with mental health care is characterized by prohibitions detailing what cannot be done, and by services that seem to require a tragic event to allow for action to be taken.

Much has been said about the delicate balance between patient rights and community (and family) safety, or the difficulty talking with someone in distress. (See some of my posts, "Dying With Your Rights On: Mental Illness, Civil Rights and Saving Lives," "The Enemy is Apathy," and "'Random' Acts of Violence Are Not So Random.")

But as our president now insists, enough is enough. The time for talk -- talk alone -- has passed. We don't need more deaths, be they mass murders or the deadly toll taken one person at a time: Though mental illness is, in Adam Lanza's case, currently unconfirmed, we need a way by which families can get assistance with their (and our) most vexing mental health problems.

Why not start with developing a way by which families, mother and fathers, and siblings and children too, can have a place to turn -- as was so desperately needed, as we discover by reading this chilling story of a mother with a son who is at risk. These families with a seriously ill member need a place to turn, a means of assistance -- professional assistance and support -- rather than real and imagined legal, regulatory and professional prohibitions asserting what cannot be said or done to help them help their loved one.

There are exceptionally capable family organizations, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) perhaps being the most accomplished advocacy group of parents, siblings and children, who could help in figuring out how to engineer and deliver the assistance they need. There are other organizations, including people with mental illness who themselves were almost CNN stories.

We need to help families help their loved ones before more sorrowful flowers are watered by the blood of future victims.

Dr. Sederer's book for families who have a member with a mental illness, The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, will be published by WW Norton in the spring of 2013.

The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

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