The VA Tech tragedy touched me on so many levels of my own humanity: mother, teacher, colleague. However, what has rubbed much salt in the wounds everyone connected with this horrible event already have is the hindsighted nagging about “why didn’t anyone recognize this young man had such severe problems?”
It has been widely reported that several of Cho’s professors and classmates did raise warnings about his need for help. As an adult college student, what could be legally done to force treatment upon him apparently was done. Who is to blame that it was not enough?
At the K-12 level, a student exhibiting such problems could be referred for services, but only with agreement from parents. I’ve seen some very disturbed children whose parents repeatedly refused to allow any intervention. I’ve also seen youngsters whose parents desperately wanted them to get mental health intervention who couldn’t because the services were not available.
In many, if not most, poor communities, basic health services are not available at the schools, much less mental health services. My former high school was 30 miles away from the nearest hospital, and we did not even have a school nurse. It is common for our schools to have one counselor working with hundreds of students. There are long waiting list for mental health services which are long distances away from these poor rural or urban communities. That’s one reason so many of the people in America with mental illnesses end up not in treatment, but in jail; it’s more accessible. Add to that the numbers of convicted (and not yet convicted) violent offenders who are students in our schools by court order. Yet legislators turn a deaf hear to our requests for counseling and other support services.
I’ve done what the teachers at VA Tech did many times: saw signs that a student was troubled in some way, notified the appropriate personnel through the required channels. Sometimes, I went beyond that and made calls on my own to parents, agencies, health care providers. The results, more often than not, were frustrating.
Fortunately, my pastor-husband and I have other resources we can call upon to help the children with whom we work, but so many in this country go along without getting the help they need. All around us, children [and their teachers] are crying for help…is anybody listening?