Behavioral Health Experts Seek to Promote Gun Safety | Wisconsin News

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By EMILY PYREK, La Crosse Tribune

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (AP) – In recent weeks, a series of threats against schools in the Coulee area have materialized, leading one to close for a day and others to increase the police presence at the scene. Fortunately, no act of violence followed, but after the shooting at a Michigan school three weeks ago, mental health experts are on high alert.

The 15-year-old mugger in the Michigan attack, which killed four, fired from a gun donated by his parents, which authorities said was not being kept in a safe place . Her parents also face charges.

If the gun had been locked rather than detached in a drawer, as has been reported, “maybe the shooting would not have happened,” says Dr Emily Rae, psychiatrist and behavioral health specialist at Gundersen. Health System.

While gun control is a hot and frequently publicized topic, there is much less emphasis on proper storage and handling, reported La Crosse Tribune.

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“Maybe we don’t agree on gun control laws or what kind of guns we should have, but we all seem to agree on gun safety and our children’s safety, ”says Rae.

Rae works with teens struggling with mental and behavioral health issues, the majority with suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and a routine discussion with parents revolves around safe gun storage. A firearm suicide attempt, Rae says, is much more likely to be fatal than other forms. Suicides among young people and adolescents overall are on the rise, and suicides by firearms are also on the rise. From 2007 to 2018, suicides among those aged 10 to 24 increased by 57%, and from 2008 to 2018, suicides by firearms among those aged 15 to 24 increased by 50%.

“We really know that a home without a gun is the safest,” says Rae. “But let’s face it, people appreciate their guns… so they’re going to be home. But there are ways (to have them) safely.

Firearms at home should be unloaded, ammunition and the weapon itself should be locked away separately. Young people can know where keys to a gun safe are stored, and a combination lock with a random code – not a date of birth or other easy-to-guess sequence – is more secure. Locks that go directly to the gun can also be affixed before storing and locking it.

“Parents can hide the gun, but most kids know where the gun is,” says Rae. Adults should always be responsible for the firearm, even if the child has taken hunting safety or other firearm training.

Rae also points out that not having a gun in the house doesn’t mean there is no access.

“It’s important to remember the majority of gun and youth suicides (involve a) gun from a parent’s home or home. Kids shouldn’t be able to buy guns themselves, so they find someone else’s gun they know, ”says Rae.

Greg Head, a therapist in Gundersen and a member of the Behavioral Health team, advises keeping guns on a shooting range or locking them at a friend or relative’s home where no minors live. Head also says parents should learn about guns in the house before letting their child visit a friend.

“More than a third of all unintentional accidental child shootings that occur in the United States occur in the home of a friend or neighbor or other relative,” Head said. “So we recommend that if your child is going to someone else’s house, you educate yourself (as you would) about food allergies or other types of safety concerns. “

The inquiry does not need to be confrontational, and if parents feel uncomfortable bringing up the issue, they could “put it (themselves): ‘I’m a worrier. There has just been so much in the news. Most responsible parents and gun owners will understand the idea that prevention is better than cure and it only takes once for a child to die, ”says Head.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Association of Children’s Hospitals in October declared youth mental health a national emergency, and Head says the psychological effects of the pandemic are evident in the population he works with.

“COVID-19, the way our world has been for the past couple of years, has really changed a lot of things,” Head said. “The experts that I work with, we see things that we have never seen in our careers before. We see things that even in the scientific literature shouldn’t be happening. I think that’s one of the factors people need to consider – COVID may have affected these kids, the kids in your community, and your kid’s school in ways you can’t imagine. It is therefore better to take all precautions.

Physical isolation during the pandemic, Head says, appears to be one of the underlying causes of psychological distress in adolescents.

Suicide and threats, whether made for attention or with the real intention of acting, are often impulsive decisions. Teenage brains, Rae notes, are not fully developed, and “a bad day” can trigger action that can’t be done.

Head says, “The adolescent brain, the prefrontal cortex, does not fully develop until the age of 21 to 25. (At this age) we are really learning to identify the real risk versus the benefit. And so your child will think differently at 25 than he does today.

Parents should actively monitor their children and recognize possible signs of mental distress, such as irritability, altered moods and behaviors, low grades, or even the donation of their belongings.

“The key is to look for a change from a model. And then, instead of just erasing it, you ask, “Well, what the hell was going on there?” ”, Says Rae. “Most of the children who are in pain want help. They take action and display signs, like “leave me alone,” but they actually want help from their parents and the adults around them. “

Being bullied could increase the risk of suicidal tendencies, or threats or acts of violence, and Head says bullying needs to be taken more seriously, especially by schools.

“Every day we work with people who identify as victims of bullying. Despite the fact that there are laws in the state protecting students from this, we still often hear the same thing: that schools tell students to just ignore them, go away, don’t stay there and not to be there them. And that’s not enough, ”says Head. “Schools have a mandate to proactively protect children, and now with the number of guns on the streets and the chaos in our country due to the influence of society, I think it is a real risk. These children should not be told to ignore this. They should not be ignored.

Examining the recent string of threats to area schools as a trend could “be dangerous,” Head said. Dismissing any threats could be damaging, and Rae says if any kind of threat is made, whether written, verbal, or in some other form, parents should have their child assessed by a primary care or mental health provider.

A recent nationwide TikTok viral challenge to threaten school violence on December 17 did not materialize in live fire, but led to several arrests. Schools in the Coulee area have not closed, but some have sent messages to families and said there will be an enhanced police presence on school grounds. If a threat dates back to an individual, the consequences can range from deportation to criminal charges. A 17-year-old Central High School student is currently facing charges over an emailed threat.

Mental health issues could factor into threats or violence, and Rae cautions that not all are diagnosed or obvious. People may assume, “This person is mentally healthy. They are safe, just because we often don’t know what people are dealing with. “

Head urges parents to talk to their children about the seriousness of the threats and dangers of guns. At the Gundersen Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, it’s a daily discussion with families.

“Most of us go through life assuming these things won’t happen. And unfortunately what we are asking people to do is to change that and take on the worst. Suppose you do not always know what is going on with your child, as it could be a fact. Suppose their friends and the media are very influential because it is a fact. And so it’s better to take all the precautions and not need them, than not to take the precautions and regret it later, ”says Head.

“We tend to think that if we bury our heads in the sand, the best will happen or it won’t happen to us. Be proactive. It will not increase the risk. We know that a responsible conversation with your children about gun safety will reduce the risk of accidental shooting. “

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