The three-legged stool and the teepee

By Rick Spalenka

Dear Editor:

I've read a lot of opinions on what to do on the heels of the Florida shooting, all old and none are good. They seem to break down into three categories: the gun, mental health and a problem with our current times. Most opinions focus on firearms. Politicians hear anti-gun rant and vision future constituents. The uninformed scream anti-gun tantrums and the liberal media eat it up. Fact is gun ownership has been around for decades but the horrendous shootings of innocents appear to be recent. It isn't recent. Charles Whitman killed 18 and wounded more than 30 with a bolt action rifle from a school tower in 1964. It really isn't the AR-15 that is at fault. It's a mental health problem. That could be another wrong path if taken blindly. So it must be the current times. Current times are good. I'm glad I'm living now rather than 100 years ago. It's the broken three-legged stool.

I use to give counselling lessons to hospitalized psych patients when I was a psych RN. One of my lessons was titled "The Three-Legged Stool." It focuses on the human body being liken to a three-legged stool. Such a stool cannot function on one or two legs. Think of this human stool as one leg being BODY (physical health), one leg is MIND (mental health), and the third is SPIRIT (emotional health). The Affordable Care Act really focused on the BODY. That alone will not support the stool. The MIND leg was broken when mental health institutions were closed for "civil right" reasons and insurance money was denied to keep inpatient psychiatric care viable. Montrose and St. Mary's psych units closed. This is a tragedy. Mental health needs to be given the same importance as physical health. Just like everyone has suffered a headache or fever at one time, everyone suffered depression related to a loss of family, pet or job or just the fear of something. The third leg is a little more mysterious and complicated. As humans we have the capacity of thought and free will. I could write volumes on this topic but to be brief it's the capacity to control stress. It's not theology as much as it's developing a moral compass. It's not the loss of a father; it's the loss of a small family unit who teach moral values. It's the loss of discipline to understand and confront stress-causing factors. You can be mentally sound but this leg will fail if your moral compass is pointing in a harmful direction.

What can be done to curtail school shootings? We have historically employed a health nurse in schools to tend to injuries and physical illness. My suggestion for the second leg is to have a qualified psychiatric professional assigned to every school (choke point for our youth development) to be available for mental health evaluations especially following a warning of a student's behavior. That evaluation should trigger, when necessary, proper follow-up investigation and action. The third leg should be more community oriented. We need to get back to the "village" and teach youth how to be prepared for stress-causing factors in a modern world. Compartmentalize mega schools and develop inclusiveness so students do not feel alone. A small "village" can substitute for a leaderless family to teach youth how to function as a team and respect each team member. For society policy actions with regard to modern gun safety we should mandate teaching gun safety for everyone through the police department, youth groups or gun clubs. Firearm training used to be more common in the rural father/son relationships or when youth entered the military more frequently. It makes no sense for a young person to be allowed to own or purchase a firearm without adequate training. We need to get back down to the teepee level and respect the experiences of elders, theologians and skilled teachers.

Rick Spalenka