Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another school shooting; Is there an answer? Yes

Another kid shot up his high school in Omaha, Nebraska yesterday. More kids are quietly committing suicide.

It can be depressing. It should be a call for action. Not because it's a new problem, because it's an old problem, which we have failed to address: depression.

The frustrating part, but also the hopeful part, is that we can stop most of these suicides. Not all, but most. Kids rarely kill themselves out of the blue. It's generally the final act of a long battle with depression.

We don't yet know whether depression was an issue with Robert Butler Jr. yesterday. He killed Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar, wounded the principal and then killed himself.  Millard South High School is not the point. It's too late to save Vicki Kaspar. But we can save faculty and students around the country, and we do know that depression is a major factor in most cases.

A few startling statistics:
  • Six percent of American adolescents suffer from clinical depression.
  • That's 2 million kids.
  • Most go undiagnosed.
  • Most are treatable, but untreated.
The main challenge is getting the right info out to the right people. So I've put together some resources I hope will help:
A few highlights:
For gay kids
Warning Signs of Depression
From National Institute of Mental Health
  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment
There is much more at the Teen Depression 101 page and the Teen Depression Unit for teachers.
These developed out of my work on Columbine—like most school shooters, Dylan Klebold was severely depressed—but both pages are geared to help readers with or without connection to Columbine. They include:
  • more hotlines and resources
  • warning signs of suicide (somewhat different than the depression list above)
  • essential reading on depression
  • discussion topics (or topics for class papers/presentations)
  • in-depth discussion questions.

Tomorrow: Part 2

I happened to be in the midst of a discussion about this topic the past few days with world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg. He is really gifted at communicating and I was startled to hear him capture the essence of the problem in such a crystal clear way. He's also got great insights into how to get that message to kids.

I've also been discussing it with some great educators, and with famed FBI hostage negotiator Dr. Dwayne Fuselier.

I'll share more of that tomorrow once I've had time to boil it down in a concise way. I wanted to get some resources up quickly.


  1. I live in Omaha and watched this unfold. It's very sad. It's terrible to see things like this happen in other places in the country but it's even worse when it happens in your own backyard. The shooting at Von Maur at the Westroads Mall also was very difficult.

  2. It is sad to know that the youths are killing themselves. Suicide is prone to those depressed teens. And they are really at risk, and some parents could not do anything about this. But there is still hope, there are a lot of at risk youth programs out there, just reach them and I know they will help in the situation.