Fighting Gun Violence through Mental Health

With the return to in-person learning, the focus on mental health is more relevant than ever before, especially with the discussion of gun violence. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many school-related issues to light, giving policy-makers and local leaders the chance to resolve many problems across Virginia. One such solution that has been drafted is the Prince William strategic plan, which aims to enhance inclusivity within the realm of student success and reduce academic discrepancies within the coming years. 

The plan also covers social and emotional issues with the objective to create a positive school climate and culture. The expansion of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) will be implemented into the curriculum framework, staff wellbeing initiatives will be in place, students will have designated support corps counselors to decrease absences, and training for school-based mental health professionals will identify at-risk students and design individual interventions under this plan. However, with these new goals and initiatives, it is important to consider the effects of gun violence that have recently been prevalent in Prince William County.  

According to the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, 8 children die every day from gun violence in America. Guns are the leading cause of death in teens and children, and consequently have a large influence on the mental state of students in schools. Lockdowns and warnings increase stress, depression, and anxiety and can even cause sleep problems and personality changes. Furthermore, adverse childhood experiences, which include exposure to violence or toxic stress from fear of violence negatively impact psychological engagement and increase the chance of developing a mental health condition. 

The recent gun threats in Prince William schools have been heavy on our students. The protocol to insure the protection of students and staff is well developed, however, solutions to prevent these attacks and preserve mental stability need to be implemented within the positive climate and culture section of the Prince William strategic plan. According to Allison Paolini, PhD professor of Counselor Education, solutions such as increased counseling interventions and partnering with local mental health agencies to develop protocols and assess mental health needs should be considered. These solutions will reduce mental health issues that both come from and incite gun violence.  

Students can also help prevent violence in schools. The Sandy Hook Foundation reports that 93% of the time, the shooter planned the attack in advance, and in 4 out of 5 shootings, one other person had knowledge of the plan but failed to report it. It is critical for students to use the new If You See Something, Say Something initiative that has been implemented to protect their peers and themselves, and prevent an incident from occurring.  

It is heartbreaking that America’s students must learn in fear. Especially after surviving a global crisis, the mental health and physical safety of students is at risk. It is urgent that our local leaders address these concerns. The lives of our children depend on it.