The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas school shooter had taken the lives of 17 students, faculty and staff members on Feb. 14, 2018. Just over a year later, two survivors, suffering from PTSD and survivors’ guilt, committed suicide within less than a week of each other. Parkland student survivors took to social media saying the school shooting took “17+2” lives, and media focus is finally on a topic that it had neglected last year: the mental health of the survivors.
Topics that come up immediately after a school shooting are the shooter’s mental health and gun control. A March 2018 Washington post article details the Parkland shooter’s entire troubled history, and a February 2018 CNN article explains how a mentally ill person can legally purchase a gun.
The same types of stories appeared after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. A February 2013 PBS article explains the shooter’s developmental disorder diagnoses.
While recognizing links between mental health disorders, these horrific events and gun control is important, the media’s tendency poses two problems. It reinforces the idea that mentally ill people may be violent, furthering the stigma against them. It also focuses the discussion on the perpetrator, neglecting those affected by the shootings. Sydney Aiello, 19, who was at the school the day of the shooting, died by suicide on March 17. Six days later, sophomore Calvin Desir killed himself at the age of 16. Jeremy Richman, 49-year-old father of a 6-year-old child killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, died in an apparent suicide March 25.
Parkland shooting survivor Kira Parrow, now a college freshman, wrote a response in Vox to the two suicides. She said the school’s attempts to address the students’ mental health – which included opening five mental health support locations and bringing in over 25 clinicians, two guidance counselors and therapy dogs – were woefully inadequate. She also changes the discussion by linking gun control to suicide prevention, mentioning a University of Indiana study that found a 7.5 percent decrease in firearm suicides in the decade following the enactment of extreme risk protection orders – a measure she wholeheartedly supports.
We must include the mental health of survivors in our discussions about school shootings. And when we discuss gun control, remember it prevents of both shootings and suicides.