Both the school and the main park in Uvalde, Texas, have become makeshift but heartfelt memorials to the victims of the shooting.
Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA
schoolmates of Salvador Ramos, 18 years old, they made fun of him because he had a stutter and because he was poor. In addition, they bullied and harassed him by telling him that he was gay. So one day he decided not to go back to class. At home, his relationship with his mother was difficult and they had strong fights. On occasions, according to his friends, Ramos even cut himself for fun. On May 24, he shot his grandmother in the face and frantically headed to Robb Elementary School. There he shot dead 21 people, mostly children, and injured 17 others. Within an hour, police killed him.
Salvador Ramos had no history of mental health. However, according to Ani Kalayjian, a Syrian-American psychologist and mass trauma specialist, he fits the profile of a shooter. “In many school shootings we find perpetrators who are young victims of bullying, antisocial and with mental health problems. That should be cause for alert.”
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In USA, as in many other countries, that is not a priority. According to the “State of the Nation’s Mental Health” report released in 2021 by Anthem, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s largest for-profit health care company, the youngest and those living in poverty were those who, especially, they did not receive attention in this area during the coronavirus pandemic. “Patient-reported rates of anxiety and depression increased, yet the ability to access mental health services decreased,” Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, Anthem’s chief health officer, told CNN.
Something similar warned the US Government Accountability Office: 68% of the almost 3,400 community clinics that served low-income people with mental health and substance abuse problems had problems operating in the last months of 2020, due to the lack of staff or funds. In addition, by June of that same year, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41% of Americans had mental health problems stemming from the pandemic, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Not without forgetting that, according to an analysis by the Commonwealth Fund, titled: “Do Americans face greater economic and mental health consequences from covid-19? Comparison of the United States with other high-income countries”, Americans were considered the most likely to report mental health problems. Thus, the percentage of adults who reported experiencing stress, anxiety or great sadness during confinement had the following behavior between countries: 33% in the United States, 26% in the United Kingdom and Canada, 24% in France, 23% in Australia and New Zealand, 18% in Sweden, 14% in the Netherlands and 10% in Norway.
“Mental health is not a priority in any country, it is not taken seriously, but among developed countries, the United States is far behind,” warned Dr. Kalayjian, adding that this coincides with other social problems, such as drug use. drugs and social isolation. However, the specialist highlights other concerns. For one thing, anyone can get a gun, regardless of their medical history. On the other hand, the health system has flaws, since from the age of 18 any jurisdiction over young people is lost and there is no way to direct them to receive medical treatment if they decide otherwise. That is why, according to her, “easy and free access, without stigma, to mental health care services is needed.”
A collective trauma, a responsibility of all
In the United States, different variables coincide behind mass violence with firearms. Inequality, polarization, the legitimization of violence and the pandemic, among other factors, in the midst of a population that is fragmented, pave the way for the creation of a social atmosphere conducive to shootings, said Wilson López, a psychology professor from the Javeriana University.
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Although these features are not exclusive to American society, the truth is that, on the one hand, the pandemic accentuated inequality in the North American country and in a disparate way. As documented by Human Rights Watch, “Black, Latino, and Native American communities have been disproportionately affected by the negative effects of the pandemic, which has deepened racial injustices in health care, housing, employment, education, and accumulation of wealth. wealth”. We must not forget that, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, although violence with firearms affects all minors, those of African descent, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native children, are most at risk, according to the study “The State of American Children”, published in 2021.
For López, on the other hand, the capture of the Capitol, on January 6, 2021, marked a precedent in the legitimization of violent demonstrationswell donald trump, by sending messages to encourage the masses to demonstrate against the certification of Joe Biden and by not acting to prevent the assault on the Legislature, which is why they are currently investigating him, left a message of support for said behavior. Something similar was raised by Dr. Kalayjian: “In the last seven years we have witnessed the Polarization and isolation. The sociopolitical atmosphere has changed and our freedom is compromised.”
According to Javier Aulí, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at the Javeriana University, in a society where there is exacerbated hatred, and there is no tolerance for difference, it is easy to find a reason to be violent. The underlying problem is that “mental health has always been in the basement of society,” added the specialist. According to him, the youngest tend to be more aggressive, as it is difficult for them to manage their emotions. Behind each of them there may be stories of lack, fragility, social injustice and violence, as well as contexts in which they feel alienated, traits that encourage an aggressive reaction. “What is our role in this?” asks the doctor.
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“This is a collective trauma, it is not just Texas”, stated Kalayjian, who shares a course of action to address this problem, having easy and free access to mental health care, as well as education in emotional intelligence, as central axes in prevention efforts. “Schools should not only teach science and math,” she pointed out. Added to this is greater control over who can carry a weapon, since today any American can own one regardless of his or her medical history or judicial past; the creation of common spaces to relieve stress, encourage tolerance between political parties and develop collective actions to promote a sense of life in the other.
“There is no collective culture of supporting each other, of helping to get up together,” Kalayjian pointed out. Remembering that some of this happened right after the 11 of September, after the attacks on the Twin Towers, and in the first months of the pandemic, emphasizes that a constant effort in this direction has not been created. On the contrary, competition prevails. That is why he warns: “We can be as lethal as a bomb if we do not learn to control our emotions.”
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