We need more than thoughts and prayers

Halen Doughty

Tragedy has once again struck the country. Seventeen innocent lives were lost in Parkland, Florida, when a 19-year-old gunman entered a high school and open fired into classrooms while students and teachers took cover. In the wake of yet another act of violence, millions are once again taking to social media to express their concerns. Among the thousands of posts I've seen, one phrase sticks out among them - "Thoughts and prayers for Florida."

How many times have we said this? We thought about Orlando, Las Vegas, and Charleston. We prayed for Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Dallas. We will likely change our profile pictures on Facebook with a frame mourning the lives lost. And then inevitably we will move on. Until it happens again.

Well I, for one, am tired of thinking and praying. I am tired of changing my Facebook profile picture. And mostly I'm tired of reading about people losing their lives simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mass shootings, whether politically, radically, or emotionally motivated, have become far too prevalent in America. When news of Columbine shook the county nearly two decades ago, we were shocked and dismayed. Now, it's almost less common to go months without such an incident than to see these tragic headlines. When is enough, enough?

Something has got to give. Those on the left say it's time for more gun control. Those on the right say it's time for more guns. I want to know when someone will address the people behind these shootings. If you ask me, we have much more of a mental health problem in this country.

Anxiety is more prevalent among teens than ever before. Children are being diagnosed with depression at younger and younger ages. Suicide rates are rising across demographics, but especially among young people. There's a bigger problem here that I feel is not being addressed. Why are people so much sadder, stressed out, and lonely than they've ever been? And when will we begin to take that seriously? It's true that gun shot wounds were the cause of death, but what about the person who fired the bullets?

While conversations surrounding mental health are becoming more common, the stigma is still there. There are still those who say emotional distress is not a real problem, but I assure you it has real consequences. Just ask the families of the victims who lost their lives at the hand of someone mentally unstable. Services are unfortunately limited in many areas, leaving struggling people without any options for seeking treatment. Those that can find resources may not be able to afford them, as psychiatrist visits and counseling are expensive.

The topic of discussion as of late has centered around what, if anything, could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Law enforcement is once again throwing around the phrase, "if you see something, say something." As though that comes as any comfort whatsoever to parents who lost a child or kids who lost a father.

Why are we tasking children and teens with the responsibility of preventing mass shootings? Why are we called on to talk to kids about ducking when they hear gunshots? Why are lockdown drills a regular occurrence on school campuses? When are we going to start being proactive instead of reactionary?

No amount of seeing things or saying something is going to bring back the seventeen lives that were lost. And we cannot continue to deal with tragedies like this. We as a society should not fear going to school, or church, or a bar, or a movie theater, or anywhere else for that matter. Teens should not have to be trained in hiding from a shooter or playing dead. It's time to do something to stop the madness.

Instead of arguing about whether we need more or less guns, let's start addressing why so many people feel called these days to unload an assault rifle anywhere. It's true that all mass shooters have a gun in common, but they typically have share something else as well - warning signs.

I'm fairly convinced that no one wakes up one day and decides out of the blue to kill more than a dozen people. There's a path someone takes to get there. From stress to anxiety, sadness to depression, anger to rage - these things build over time. What might the country look like if there were solutions to these problems that everyone had access to? What will it take for us as a country to take mental illness seriously? How many more people have to die at the hands of unstable people?

All I'm saying is, maybe if we thought more about the people who commit these acts of violence, we wouldn't have to pray for their victims.

Follow Halen on Twitter: @LikeVanHalen