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As Newtown grieves, national conversation begins about mental health and violence

by AirTalk®

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People walk to enter Honan Funeral Home before the funeral for 6-year-old Jack Pinto on December 17, 2012 in Newtown Connecticut. Pinto was one of the 20 students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The mourning process has begun in Newtown, Connecticut following the mass murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday. After a weekend of vigils and community gathering, as well as a visit last night from President Obama, today the families of two of the young victims are holding funerals. Law enforcement officials say that a full investigation may take months, but already, a national conversation about motivation and prevention has begun.

At the forefront of everyone’s mind are issues of gun control and mental health. As the world awaits an explanation of this horrific crime, public diagnoses and speculation run wild. Sources who knew Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman, say that he had a developmental disorder.

In responses to the killing spree, news outlets have speculated about what mental illness or illnesses might be attributed to mass murderers. One notable blog post, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” attracted a lot of attention this weekend – its author discussed the difficulty of raising a violent child and not knowing what motivated their actions.

In response to the slew of conjecture about mental illness and violence, many mental health professionals and several parents of autistic children have spoken up publicly about the issue of autism and empathy, saying that autism and Asperger’s do not directly link to violence.

What is the best way to approach the topic of mental health in the wake of such a serious crime? What role, if any, could transformations in the mental healthcare system have in preventing incidents like the Newtown massacre? Is the relationship between mental health and extreme violence as crucial as gun safety? Which issue should politicians approach more aggressively?


Craig LeMoult, Senior Reporter for WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut, currently on the ground in Newtown

Tracy Fass, Ph.D in Clinical Psychology, Program Director and Associate Professor at the California School of Forensic Studies, researches the area of risk assessment and juvenile offenders, recently focused on the treatment of juveniles with pervasive developmental disorders in corrections system

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