The recent tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the subsequent March for Our Lives protests have reignited the debate about guns in schools. The argument about gun control has been going on for a very long time and, with each new shooting similar to this, the debate is revived. Yet, this hot debate over firearms and gun control completely eclipses another issue that continues to be ignored: mental health.

While guns are a very large problem in the United States, mental issues have become an epidemic among young adults in the U.S. One in five youths aged 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder sometime in their life. In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of the death and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24.

Just a week after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and wounded 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a 7th grader at Jackson Memorial Middle School in Massillon, Ohio, shot himself and subsequently died from the self-inflicted wound. When the news came out, the fire for the gun debate was stoked with concern for how a 7th grader got a gun into school. What we should be concerned with is how he had access to the firearm, and why did his parents not notice anything was wrong? We should be focusing on how our system can be improved, and how we can stop it from failing these kids. Gun control is an issue that should be secondary in these situations. It sounds unconvincing, but the truth is that all of these tragedies can be avoided by properly assessing the mental condition of these kids. Nicholas Cruz has a clear record of mental illness and, the sad truth is, if the system had worked then this shooting would never have occurred. Schools should rework their system in regards to counseling and care. Most students will not seek help on their own; it is the sad truth of our society today.

I suggest schools hire counselors who are solely there for the purpose of emotional support. The way my school and many schools’ counseling systems are setup are that there are two to three counselors who all act as emotional counselors as well as academic advisers and, because of this, they are stretched pretty thin. Schools need to hire counselors who are there exclusively to counsel students emotionally, and implement a system of ‘wellness checks’ where students are called in to said emotional counselors’ offices and speak with them about anything that may be wrong.

We are living in a society in which more teens than ever before are living with extreme depression and anxiety, yet our schools (possibly because of financial restrictions) have not kept up with the problem. Kids spend a third of their lives in school, so school needs to be a safe place not just from guns but from inner demons as well. Having full-time emotional counselors in schools is necessary in order to not only prevent another tragedy, but also to improve the well being of students who are having difficulties in school because of undiagnosed mental problems. As a student who has a mental illness, I think this system will improve the lives of our students and help us moving forward. So, before we address the gun debate, let’s focus on our mental health problem first.