Saturday, June 2, 2012

135th Post - A Troubling Week

Well, THAT was a week. It was not too bad on a personal level, but from a world view...crazy! More shootings, not just in our town, but all across Canada and the US. Seemingly random, senseless murders.

One story hit particularly close to home. A twenty-six year old man who was shot and killed after allegedly killing two people and critically shooting another, went to school with my children; played on my middle son's soccer team. This young man is a suspect in the murder of two people who by all reports were innocently working in their restaurant. This troubled boy, if at 26 you can still be considered a boy, also shot and seriously wounded his previous landlord. The police put out a warning for anyone who knew Angus David Mitchell. The concern was he was out of control and out to harm people whom may have done him wrong. Eventually, in a shoot out with the police, he was fatally shot. He was evil. He is dead. End of story.

Except that, I remember this boy when he was young...preteen. My memory may be fuzzy after all this time, but as I recall he was an angry youngster, a good soccer player, but angry. 

According to some of  his high school classmates,  he dropped out of school at about grade 11. Still a child. Some had forgotten about him until this week when his face was on all the local news channels, twitter, and our old standby; the  newspaper. Some reports quoted recent coworkers of his saying they 'knew something was wrong', and they stayed away from him. Several news reports included an angry rant he made towards a former employer. 26 year old Angus was even more angry than the 10 year old Angus I remember. 

This news rocked the community of 20 year olds who knew him. How could one of the locals become so violent? 

This story touched my heart, not just because of the memories I have of an angry young boy, but because I wonder and worry about some of the students I work with now. 

If you are a teacher, you may have wondered about where your students will turn up in 10, 20, or even 30 years. We see both the good and the not so good. We see warning signs. We warn parents, we access any resources we can for these students. 

This is where I struggle. Is it due to a lack of resources that we are still not reaching some students? Or is it an unwillingness on the part of the student to utilize the supports?  When the child is still a child,  is it the parents responsibility to go with the child and become part of the process? I suspect it's all of the above and more.

The confidential nature of my job prevents me from saying more, but I will sneak in this thought. When a child is struggling, most of the time they are not struggling in isolation. If a child has a struggle with their mental health, it affects the whole family. If a child is going to grow into a grounded and healthy adult, it is extremely difficult for a child to do so without the input of the entire family system. 

Before you jump all over me for sounding judgmental and 'blaming' parents...please stop. What I'm saying, in a rather cumbersome way is that we all belong to a system. We cannot get well in isolation. At least children can't. Perhaps it's different for adults, I'm not sure. At any rate, if you are a parent and your child is struggling with anger, anxiety, depression, sadness, defiance, or has become difficult to parent, please get help. Call your school counsellor, go to your doctor. Call mental health in your community. Track down local agencies who offer parenting support. Call more than once. 

If you are having difficulty coping  with your own anger, grief, depression, addiction, or anything that is causing you to struggle on a daily basis, seek out help. See a doctor, call adult mental health, find a church. Call a friend - don't isolate, don't struggle alone. 

I don't know how much support Angus got in his youth. I don't know his family. It's likely they had provided him with many supports. We don't know. But I do know this: if your child is struggling they need you to walk with them no matter how hard it gets. And you need someone to walk with you, and so on, and so on. 

There are several links in the right column of this blog. They can take you to a variety of helpful sites. Please use them. 

As for Angus David Mitchell. It is tragic that his life ended as it did; although he may have been looking for an end. There is no excuse for what he did. Families are left to deal with the impact of his life and actions for the rest of their lives. It is impossible to go back and rewrite the past, but please, oh please, let us wake up to the present. Let us look with our hearts and eyes and see and offer support to those around us who are struggling. 

I refuse to believe anything other than Better is Possible!


  1. Thoughtful post, Carol. Comes today at about the same time as the shooting in the Eaton Centre in Toronto. One dead, six wounded, and a pregnant woman knocked down and trampled.

    What is happening to Canada?

    Better is possible; it hope it arrives, soon.

  2. This is a very thoughtful, insightful post, Carol, and it really struck a cord with me.

    As a psychotherapist, I was always so discouraged when parents would bring a young teenager in to see me with the directive "Fix him!" One of the great difficulties of treating children and adolescents is that often for them to change, something has to change at home, within the family system. And a lot of parents are not so inclined. Once, when I suggested that the therapy for a troubled teen be family instead of individual therapy (I sensed some real issues with the family), the mother shouted "Why should I humiliate myself just because my kid's an asshole?"

    Helping a child turn his life around within such a family system is a real challenge and not always possible. So sad.

    And, at the same time, parents have so many expectations of schools and the helping profession. A friend of mine, who has a three-year-old daughter who has never heard the word "No!" and who is currently bouncing off the walls and getting them banned from area restaurants, admitted to me recently that this child needs limits and needs to learn to behave better. "So," she said. "I'm planning to send her to pre-school so that she can learn to behave." My jaw dropped and I struggled to tactfully remind this mother -- who is an M.D. -- that discipline and good behavior begin at home.

  3. What a complicated post and interesting comments. I will add my own take on this.

    I have always said that raising children is like walking through a mine field. Some of us make it and some of us don't.

    Now while sounds fatalistic it is only part of my thinking. I believe there are rare people who are born with faulty brains. Just a few in a generation - not as many as we see on the news or in our jails. The rest are problematic folks who are born "normal" and who are shaped by their surroundings and parents. They didn't get a fair shake in in being raised by rational and loving parents. That group is enormous, unfortunately. And fixing those people after the damage has been done takes an massive effort and sometimes can't be fixed as all.

    Your story is heart breaking - especially for this young man. Hard to know if he was born with problems or they were created by something else in his young brain. But the outcome is the same - damage to the society around him.

    This story isn't new either. I am sure it can be found all the way back into our ancient history. Humans are faulty and some of them should never be parents.

  4. Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments. It is complicated for sure. Is it nature or nurture - ah, the age old question? There is no easy answer. What does come to mind is the old adage, 'it's takes a village to raise a child'. I'm going to sit with that thought for a while.
    Again, I appreciate the time you all took to respond so thoughtfully,
    Thank you!

  5. Hi, Carol. You've been gone for a while. Hope you are all right.

    Blessings and Bear hugs.

  6. Hi Rob
    How caring of you to see if I'm well. And yes I am, well; but busy. I hope to get back to my somewhat neglected blog in a week or so, once the course I'm taking is done . I have so much bottled up to say I worry my little blog will burst with verbiage in a week or two. Not only have I neglected posting, I'm way behind on reading and commenting on my dear blog friends' blogs. Soon I shall return. Thanks again for taking the time to check on me, Rob. How lovely to know that I have such caring friends. Blessings to you...and speaking of is life in bear country?