There has been 18 school shootings in 2018, and counting! Does this make any sense at all, to anyone? The most recent act of violence occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a well-to-do Ft. Lauderdale suburb by Nikolas Cruz.
Within every school, church, community, and neighborhood in the United States, there is at least one person who is ready to act out in violence. What alternatives are available to middle school students, rural Americans, small town parishioners, concert attendees, innocent school children, and American citizens everywhere, other than to accept the next tragic mass shooting? Are they and community and school leaders’ helpless — perpetual victims of those who are angry or upset or want revenge upon those who have done them wrong in some way? What can young people, their parents, and school and community leaders do to positively impact incidences of human violence in our modern society by improving the mental health and well-being of all of our citizens?
Instead of our schools and communities being the victims of violence, they can be the source of teaching positive psychological health and well-being. We can institute newly researched best practices now with the commitment of concerned and compassionate and effective leaders. We can prevent incidences of violence by young people through our schools. There are new breakthrough methods available that do indeed prevent future acts of violence, opioid addictions, suicides and numerous other behavioral based illnesses. I am writing today to offer hope and sound research based methods to school superintendents everywhere, to our local school boards, dedicated teachers, and concerned parents across our great country — that we can implement these best practices.
Leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Secretary Betsy Devos just to name a few, do not call for mental health for all young people attending schools because they do not have a school-based, evidence-based model they can recommend that would improve well-being outcomes — an important purpose of education in the 21st century. Nor do they have the perspective to take the longer term view that addresses the mental health and well-being of all Americans. Clearly they are too caught up in the never ending and unwinnable debate regarding sensible guns laws.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper correctly states that “as a society we are failing our children.” Thoughtful analysis by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asserts that “we are frozen as a society as to what to do: focus upon gun control or mental health policies.” Additionally, former ATF violence expert Jim Cavanaugh, offers a broader contextual view that we spend a lot of money on many prevention and response resources, such as police training, school lockdown procedures, and community crisis response — but not on what is most important.
Sen. Blumenthal is correct to state the issue of guns and gun violence is not a 2nd Amendment issue, it is a public health issue. Speaker Ryan calls for more focus upon mental health and closing loopholes, of course this is the right thing to do. But how much courage does it take to make this declaration? I would like to see influential leaders use this sad and most recent tragedy to call for a much bolder and broader policy of mental health for everyone — every child attending a public school in America.
America’s children are not well, psychologically, emotionally nor physically — all Americans not just mass murderers, with more than 80 percent of our population demonstrating signs or symptoms of emotional, psychological or physical illness, it is time to define the issues and identify the current reality we face the pervasiveness of our illness.
Dr. Frederick Brown, a leading psychology of well-being professor at Penn State, offers his expertise and set of tools to help people take control of their well-being futures where he asserts that the “Integrated Self or iSelf model emerges from the interaction of current scientific information about the direct influence by emotions, both positive and negative, upon cognitive functioning. These emotions, in turn, are based upon personal relevancy and meaningfulness and are the controlling switch by which effective learning takes place or not. A positive emotional approach facilitates a sense of well-being that, in turn, enhances a willingness to learn.” The Center for the Self in Schools has developed a mental health and well-being for all toolkit for teachers, counselors, administrators and parents consisting of three high-impact practices: Integrated Self or iSelf model, Student Success Predictor, and Self across the Curriculum.
School-aged children with psychological well-being have a lower risk of mental health disorders and physical health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, obesity, cutting, substance abuse and bullying, among others. As such, well-being is an important protective factor to impart in a child’s life in preparation for college and careers, and for a positive life.
The Integrated Student Success Toolkit (iSuccess) provides frontline educators and parents with a new student success model based on the latest research in the psychology of well-being and student-centered learning.
It is critical in our view that education leaders relay to students the interconnectedness among mental health and well-being to success in school and life. The need is clear for a new integrated student success model that places mental health and wellness at the center.
What is often missing in people who experience mental illness is the ability to take a deeper look at the inner self, to know who they are and want to become. Violent behavior is the result of Borderline (Emotionally Unstable) Personality disorder and identity disorders like that suffered by Arapahoe high school student Karl Pierson (who acted out in violence in December 2013), and most recently Mr. Cruz. We can help teachers and mental health practitioners focus on teaching the iSelf model as a violence prevention model to all students who suffer from varying degrees of mental health disorders with the intent to produce happy, healthier people. Self-knowledge is the number one protective factor for children’s mental health.
Further, school-aged children and adolescents need to learn how to change their beliefs in order to create a better future, for themselves and toward the greater good for all. The inability to change one’s beliefs is a symptom of psychological condition known as a “fixed mindset.” Within the field of positive psychology, someone with a fixed-mindset has the aim is to achieve validation. The person constantly tries to prove himself, and is highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. So, failure brings him doubt, demeans his character, and destroys his confidence. As a result, a person with a fixed-mindset, always feels anxious and is vulnerable to setbacks or criticisms and feels powerless in the world. Resulting behaviors include bullying, aggressiveness toward others including demeaning those that represent views other than your own, and letting off steam or expressing oneself inappropriately just to release the inner stress and anxiety that build.
The research is conclusive and compelling that self-knowledge is the number one protective factor for children’s mental health and a positive life course trajectory.
If self-knowledge is such an important factor in empowering people of all ages to a great life, then why don’t we teach it to more people in more places, through our schools? The silence from our education, mental health and political leaders is deafening.
I know that we can do better, and should do more to honor the goodness within all of us.
Dr. Henry G. Brzycki is a well-being psychology and education expert and president of The Brzycki Group & The Center for the Self in Schools, which has a mission to impact the emotional, psychological and well-being of children through schooling. Brzycki can be contacted at: Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.