Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hockey and Bomb Threats

Wow, what a crazy week. The high of highs is coming for us Canucks fans (hopefully tonight) and yet it feels a bit tempered for me in light of the horrible incident at Virginia Tech, the controversy over the airing of the videotapes, and the subsequent threats that have occurred all over North American (including North Delta Secondary and SFU Burnaby). And yet violence on a local scale is also gaining more attention with the beating of the asian woman at the 29th Street Skytrain Station and the renewed call for greater police presence and the targeting of women for their purses.

Being a criminologist-in-training I understand the need to study these types of extreme events and the circumstances surrounding them in order for professionals such as those whom I work with to be able to better recognize warning signs and be able to perform more accurate threat assessments (the new buzzword in crime prevention). But at the same time, I agree with those who question the necessity of publicizing the videos and photos sent to the media. Are we simply playing to his desire for fame through murder by airing these images? Is our need for gore so insatiable that we are willing to glorify one man's obvious mental health issues while ignoring those who were arbitrarily chosen for harm? We will remember the gunman's name, yet in three months will any of us be able to name even one of the victims?

And just as we have seen with such other high-profile incidents such as Columbine, Taber, and recently Dawson College, such incidents are splashed across our televisions (and now our computer monitors), which we know incites other desperate persons to engage in similar actions. Are we not simply providing easy solutions to complex problems? We show these people that they will be memorable for the number of victims they claim, without much discussion about how we can better address their needs that have gone ignored for so long.

These events are rare and shocking, and yet we find ourselves fascinated by them. Particularly in the field of Criminology we wish to understand what leads people to this point; why the feel they need to take others with them into their suffering and spread their fear, negative self-talk, and visions of violence. Yet these events seem to happen with greater frequency, and yet we are still shocked by them. We do not appear to be any closer to preventing these events, as we have seen in the Virginia Tech reports that faculty and students were concerned about the gunman's state of mind and behaviours for more than a year prior to this incident.

So what's the answer? Better resources for people in need of mental health care, better attention paid to those reportedly displaying mental health problems, and better interventions for those who may be a danger to themselves or to others. Awareness in society is also important; while we are concerned with large-scale events such as school campus shootings, persons with mental illness are most often a danger to their own safety rather than a danger to the public. Persons with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves through alcohol and drug use, risk-taking behaviours, self-harm behaviours, and suicide attempts than they are to turn their depression outward and harm other persons. We need to be aware of people with mental health issues, but not be so afraid of them that we can't try to help them.

Back to the hockey game, perhaps some good news will lift everyone's spirits.

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