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Dec-20-2012 12:54printcomments

The New Normal...a View from the Eyes of a 14-Year Old

"Where can one be safe, ever? Is this the new normal?" asks a 14 year old.

Eye of a child

(NEW YORK) - Imagine the Newtown, CT tragedy through the eyes of an impressionable 14 year old. She was just born when Columbine happened and was too young to understand 9/11. A little bit more seeped in when Virginia tech occurred, and then there were more shootings at malls and movie theaters. Now this.

"Where can one be safe, ever? Is this the new normal?" asks a 14 year old.

We live in an ever more violent period. The last 14 years really have seen more turmoil, more extreme behaviors, more chaos across the globe. Our cultures are morphing at extreme rates due to social media. Perhaps one of the side effects is an increase in extreme anti-social actions that challenge the boundaries of civilization as we know it.

The average 14 year old in America experiences multiple ways they communicate in person and in cyberspace. They split the world into winners and losers and give very little room for "others" to exist in comfort.

Reality TV, websites and other venues reinforce the need to be the best. This competitiveness is fueled in a Darwinian manner. As the resources dwindle, the aggression increases and violence often follows. We see an increase in bullying and cyberbullying, hazing, and gang violence, and when this phenomenon is mixed with mental illness we see massacres.

Why? Because there is no hope of survival. The "losers" have decided to commit suicide and therefore they do not think about any other consequences, none other than their own desire to seek revenge or to express the anger that has simmered within them for years. To finally be in control, to be the winner, in a warped scenario that is not absurd in their eyes.

What these people are missing is a peer group who are supportive; people who recognize them, rather than avoid them or treat them as invisible. We, as a society, tend to do that. To treat those who are "odd" in some way, those who do not fit in, those who are not winners, as if they do not exist. And perhaps we drive some of them to the edge.

When we speak of our mental health system what are we really talking about? For the most part, our mental health is held in the hands of insurance companies who dictate to hospitals and providers the length of care, and circumstances that will be reimbursed. That is why only the actively suicidal or homicidal patients are hospitalized. That is why most leave the hospital before they have been stabilized on medications or connected to community services. That is why so many people are untreated or undertreated.

In addition, though we have equal rights for people of all colors and religions, a stigma exists when we start to speak about mental health. Many people do not want treatment because they do not want to be stigmatized in their own minds, and in the eyes of others. We have not come to grips with the fact that at any moment, half of America is depressed, and quarter of America is anxious and nearly 70% of us have problems sleeping. We do not want to recognize the abundance of mental health problems that face our children and ourselves.

Our "vulture culture" emphasizes a winner/loser mentality that encourages dominance and aggression. These behaviors will stop when individuals become assertive and protect themselves; when bystanders learn how to be proactive as a group and protect victims, and when schools and institutions create communities of respect and support.

We need to de-stigmatize mental illness. We need to have mental health professionals decide who should be treated and how they should be treated. Various kinds of treatment centers need to be integrated in all communities throughout the country and these services cannot be controlled by insurance companies. There is no premium high enough to cover the cost of the lives of our children.

Let's join together to change our culture, our infrastructure and our point of view, so that 14 year olds will not believe that the "new normal" is one in which massacres are an everyday reality.


Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist for 25 years, specializes in issues which confront children, tweens and teens. Lipkins has recently appeared on Oprah, Today, Good Morning America and other programs to discuss school bullying, as well as the Virginia Tech shootings. She resides in the New York area.



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