Thursday, April 19, 2007

Some Thoughts About the Virginia Tech Tragedy

I've read a lot about the tragedy in Virginia, on blogs and on news sites. Much of what needed to be said has been said, but I'll add just a few thoughts of my own.

In the days and weeks to come, some will use this incident as a political opportunity, referring to it to support their positions on gun control, security, and various other issues, even when there is the most tenuous of correlations with the tragedy. Indeed, conservative author, Dinesh D'Souza even got some mileage out of this event as an opportunity to get in a rant about atheism, of all things:

Where is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?

But I think it's misleading to say that this happened because the killer had guns or because the victims didn't have guns, because security wasn't tight enough, or because there isn't enough belief in God in America today. It's not a liberal vs conservative issue.

It's a mental health issue. It's yet another sad story about the failures of the mental health system in this country. As with Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, and the rest of those who committed similar heinous atrocities, Cho Seung-Hui didn't spend his entire life acting normal, then suddenly woke up one morning and decided out of the blue to go on a killing rampage.

Both students and professors had noted his antisocial behavior, and complaints had brought him to the attention of school authorities on more than one occasion.

In 2005, after being apprehended for harassing two women on campus, the court ordered that he be evaluated by psychiatrists for mental illness, because probable cause was found after an initial evaluation indicating that Cho was a danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness.

But even though he was found to be presenting "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness", he was released and outpatient treatment was recommended for him, which he apparently never followed up on.

I'm of the opinion that this tragedy might well have been averted if Cho had gotten the appropriate mental health help that he desperately needed when he came to the attention of the authorities in 2005.

As long as the mental health system continues to drop the ball and fails to accurately identify and properly treat mentally ill people, incidents like this will unfortunately continue to occur.


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