Newtown Tragedy Spotlights Mental Health Needs

By Sarah Beller 12/17/12

But the pro-gun lobby claims psych meds are responsible for such tragedies.

27 angels at a Newtown memorial. Photo via

Since the devastating shooting in Newtown, CT on Friday that left 20 children and eight adults (including the gunman) dead, observers and politicians have expressed the need to make better mental health resources available in the US. Many schools and communities "have cut their mental health services to the bone,” says Dewey Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project, and "we're paying a price for it as a society." He argues that mental illness destroys countless lives—contributing to domestic violence and child abuse, drug addiction, homelessness and incarceration—and that investing in mental health care and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness could help prevent future tragedies. "If we are going to focus on prevention,” says Cornell, “we can't think about the gunman in the parking lot and what to do with him. We have to get involved a lot earlier." 

There have also been numerous loud calls for increased gun control in response to the tragedy. But the pro-gun lobby is attempting to deflect such action by blaming—instead of the wide availability of guns—the medications that are used to treat mental illness. After The Washington Post reported that a neighbor of shooter Adam Lanza said he was "on medication," editor Mike Adams at Natural News declared that instead of gun control, "we need medication control!" Meanwhile at The Washington Times Communities, writer Mike Shortridge claims that “Big Pharma throws out more and more drugs with proven devastating side effects...Columbine killer Eric Harris was prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft before being switched to Luvox." He cites a study claiming: “all the antidepressants [except for two] were associated with violence.” Such attacks on psychiatric medications only serve unintentionally to highlight the need for better access to mental health care that includes therapy, not drug treatment alone.

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.