Words Can Kill

StoltzAnd then there’s the guns.

Our nation grieves again for the victims of yet another mass shooting, this one the largest, most horrific scale we have experienced with guns.

As has become requisite now for these assaults on people and sensibilities, terms of terror, disaffected rage, association with hate groups, emotional disturbance, and mental illness become the focal points for public debate.

I have little professional understanding of hate; I have personal and professional understanding of mental health disorders. Here’s the connection:


When someone we care about descends into mental confusion — which often is accompanied by addiction — our attempts to engage and intervene with someone are rebuffed by the person specifically because holding onto one’s beliefs carries its own reward, despite the loss of love, caring, employment, or status. Damaging and hateful words of others are candy for denial.

True psychiatric disabilities are always preceded by episodes of decline of varying lengths. The idea that someone “suddenly snapped” is for all intents and purposes a myth. Movies and headlines embrace the “he snapped” concept because it carries more drama than the true descent associated with mental and emotional despair.

It is this period of time — before the act — that provides an enormous window of opportunity for good public policy. Waiting periods, references, reviews of police reports including for domestic violence (in this Orlando case), review of other law enforcement investigation (the FBI in this case, too), all offer opportunity at crime prevention and a sustained, multi-pronged mental health intervention.

It is awful to watch the horror of the event . . . of those who were in that nightclub followed by the grief of victims’ families.

It is even worse for people in recovery, their families, and mental health professionals because we all know that a little real education about mental distress coupled with some sensible interventions can prevent tragedy.

Denial does not close discussion. It’s the very point where education can happen.

Michael Stoltz has been at the agency’s leadership helm since 1990, first as Executive Director of the predecessor organization, Clubhouse of Suffolk, and since July 2014, the CEO of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness (MHAW). MHAW is the result of the merger of Clubhouse with Suffolk County United Veterans and the Mental Health Association in Suffolk County.                                                                                                                                             Under Michael’s stewardship, the agency has grown to one with an $10 million annual operating budget, 150 employees, servicing more than 3,000 people each year through its Ronkonkoma, Riverhead, and Yaphank facilities. A social worker by training, Michael received his MSW in 1982 from Adelphi University, where he has served as an Adjunct Professor teaching Social Welfare Policy and Human Service Management. He served as a Program Supervisor, developing and implementing the Suffolk County Intensive Case Management Program, as well as positions in management and direct service at several Long Island outpatient clinics.

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Posted in Gun Violence, Guns

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