UNC-Charlotte Shooting: With America's Churches, Schools Under Assault We Have A Mental Health Emergency | Opinion

God help us when churches, schools, and universities have become the favorite targets in the U.S. of murderous shooters, the kind that likes to cowardly surprise the most unsuspecting, pelting them with gunfire, terror, and death.

But that's the storyline emerging across America in the wake of this week's University of North Carolina-Charlotte shooting. Last week, a 19-year-old gunman allegedly fired at least eight rounds of gunfire into a San Diego, California synagogue, killing one and injuring three on the last day of a major Jewish holiday. This week, a student at UNC-Charlotte, armed with a pistol and no apparent motive just "walked into a classroom and shot the guys"—his words.

Like he had nothing better to do on a beautiful spring day.

Before the alleged shooter Trystan Terrell, 22, arrived to spew rounds of terror, killing two people and injuring four, UNC-Charlotte's campus was a nearly perfect picture of America—students every demographic enjoying a warm spring afternoon on the final day of classes. They were learning, working toward betterment in the same manner that has made this country great and healthy for generations.

Responsible. Forward-thinking. Ambitious—doing it the hard way, one class at a time.

But then a deranged shooter flings bullets around campus in rapid-fire, with no regard for life, and dares to flash a smile as he was led away from campus in handcuffs.

God help us.

Truly, God help us.

America has a big problem and solutions are needed. Consider that in 2018 there were more than 100 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 60 deaths (7 were suicide deaths) and more than 80 injuries (according to everytownresearch.org.)

The gun debate will rage again, with paralyzing battles over the Second Amendment, split down polarized political lines. Gun reforms may be needed, but don't expect that any time soon. Besides, the UNC-Charlotte shooter was armed with a pistol. Most shootings don't involve machine-gun type weapons, so the gun reforms currently on the table may not save many lives. Also, consider that the alleged UNC-Charlotte's shooter's grandfather told the Associated Press that his grandson didn't have an interest in guns. No, our primary problem in America is a burgeoning mental health crisis—with high demands and scant resources.

Our country remains the greatest in the world, with opportunity, education and actual freedom, but we have a mental health emergency without clearly defined resources to deal with it. You can find fast food on almost every corner but getting mental health access remains a challenge. Resources are slim and hard to find and obtain.

A 2018 study by the non-profits the Cohen Veterans Network and the National Council for Behavioral Health concluded that "Americans' current access to and attitudes towards mental health services, revealed American mental health services are insufficient, and despite high demand, the root of the problem is lack of access —or the ability to find care."

"If we want to save lives, save families and save futures we must reimagine our behavioral health system and take concrete steps to improve consumers' ability to find the care they need, when they need it, and on their terms," said Cohen Veterans Network President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Anthony Hassan.

Consider that when America needed an intricate transportation pipeline may decades ago, we built the Interstate highway system. It changed this country. Now, while the gun debate rages along political lines without solutions, we should step back and do something bold and impacting for America: We need to reimagine solutions for behavioral health and do something about it.

We need clinics near churches. We need clinics near schools.

There's no naivety here. Investment in mental health is not likely to stop all shootings. Our new world has countless anxiety points including social media and gaming. Our new world deals with a changing economy that makes opportunity harder for many to see, much less obtain. These factors seem to provoke the worst kind of anxiety and evil – the sort of "my life is miserable, so I'll just ruin yours," smiling for the cameras after the bloodshed.

But mental health services are arguably the most under-provided demand in America today, with some reports suggesting as many as six in 10 Americans are seeking or want some mental health service. Most, however, say such services are out of grasp.

Clinics are hard to find. Appointments can be harder to obtain, considering the demand and workload. But on this morning, we have a community at UNC-Charlotte that is hurting, with many undoubtedly needing professional support for surviving such a horrible shooting. The same story is being told for members of the synagogue in San Diego, and the victims of shootings across America.

And somewhere, other persons struggling with their demons have seen that horrible smile that was flashed for the camera. And they are thinking about doing the very same thing, perhaps at a church or a school near you.

God help us. We need more mental health resources.

David Magee, Managing Editor of U.S. Operations, is a former publisher of The Oxford (MS) Eagle daily newspaper, vice president at Alabama Media Group (al.com), and publisher of Birmingham magazine. He is the author of a dozen non-fiction books, including How Toyota Became #1 (Penguin) and profiles of John Deere, Bill Ford Jr., and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​