Navy Yard Tragedy Calls for More Attention to Psychological Health

After yet another mass shooting in Washington, D.C., the nation was left to question America’s safety and psychiatry measures. 

On Monday, Sept. 16, investigators say that an armed gunman drove to the Navy Yard base and walked into building 197, the Naval Systems Command building. Around 8:15 a.m., the shooter opened fire on an atrium, where several people were eating breakfast. Hundreds of workers on the Navy base were forced to flee for safety as gunshots from a shotgun and handgun semi-automatic weapon echoed across the building.

After multiple attempts to end the attacker’s rampage, police fatally shot the gunman in an office on the third floor of the building. Including the shooter, thirteen people had been killed.

“I think my initial response was like any citizen,” said Lieutenant Colonel Greg Nardi of Temple’s ROTC program. “You feel for the victims, for their families, and hope that the people who are trained to respond are able to get the situation quickly under control.”

An all-too-common occurrence was part of the incident: The perpetrator was mentally unstable.

An ex-commander at the Washington Navy base, Lieutenant Colonel Marc Young of Temple’s ROTC program had personal ties to the tragedy. Young was “sad” that it unfolded on military grounds.  

“We have systems in place for assisting soldiers that have mental health issues,” he said. “The key is identifying them and taking them to the right resources to get them the help they need.”

Aaron Alexis, the gunman, was a former Navy reservist and was working in the Naval Systems Command building. He had a long history of psychiatric issues, and was reported to the Naval station 6 weeks before the tragedy.

The 34-year-old Alexis claimed to be “hearing voices” and also believed that three people were following him, sending “vibrations” through his body. He reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to working on 9/11. However, New York City officials have no record of him aiding the emergency. Alexis was also reportedly addicted to violent video games.

“When you play video games, you view things in the game as objects,” said Elena Kenney, a neuroscience major. “So when you’re in the real world, you might have trouble with reality. Human beings can become an object and a target.”

Although there are still many unanswered questions about how the shootings unfolded, it is apparent that Alexis was not receiving proper psychiatric care. In a 2007 background check, he denied any feelings of depression, suicide and anxiety, and was cleared. Clearly, Alexis did not undergo tests that were extensive enough to determine whether or not he was concealing violent tendencies.

This shows the trouble with our mental healthcare system: It does not function quickly and accurately enough to help those in need.

Many people claim that it is imperative to ban firearms to solve the mass shooting crisis, when they are uninformed of the real issue at hand—mentally unstable people who are not fortunate enough to receive the proper care. This entire tragedy, much like every other tragedy involving the mentally unstable, could have been avoided.

The Navy Yard shooting has yet again proven that the man behind the weapon is the root of tragedies such as this one. Much like the Newtown shooter, the Columbine shooters and others, Alexis was sadly mistreated and his condition went unrecognized.

We need to focus more on improving our mental health care system, not revoking the rights of gun owners. When we can finally achieve this, preventable tragedies like this one will stop occurring.

Photo Credit: USA Today