Monday, December 17, 2012

Mental Health is the Issue

This shooting in Connecticut has affected us all.  And in the rush to deal with this tragedy, invariably the public will focus on guns and gun control.

Doing so, I feel, will probably sidetrack the issue as to how we can deliver mental health services to more people (and especially children) in a better and more efficient way.

The gun issue is nuanced.  Some countries actually have more guns per capita than the United States.  That's true, but there are major conditions placed on the citizens in those countries , both before and after guns are purchased.  It's true that gun related violence is not prevalent in those countries, but, at least in Israel, the rates of gun related suicide are quite high.

But, violence occurs at high rates in other countries where it is nearly impossible to obtain a gun.  Remarkably, on the same day that we witnessed the horror at Sandy Hook elementary in Newton, the residents of the Guangshan county in the city of Xinyang also dealt with a tragedy that defied logic.  Twenty-two children were attacked by a knife-wielding individual outside the gates of the Chenpeng Village Primary School.

Just to be clear, I do agree that gun laws need to be stricter.  But we should not let the conversation move away from mental health.

In many ways, we may be very similar to China.  Our lives are stressful.  There is a wide gulf between the rich and poor, and workers in all countries are not treated fairly, leading to high rates of poverty. We move a lot within our country's borders, which erodes our social support.  "Back in the day", when we didn't move all that much, children found support in extended family.  That extended family is not always so close in today's day.  And there is a lack of psychological support in the schools and in the community at large.

In addition (while I can't speak for China), I know that we are, as a people very mean to one another.  We get angry way too easily.  We value winning an argument, at any cost, than coming to a realistic resolution.   This narrative dominates our political discourse, but it also has trickled into our daily lives.  Along with the environmental stressors that we are all experiencing, we are just not nice to one another.  And if we are all experiencing this distress, the effects should be more intense for children and adults with mental illness.

This isn't an argument for excusing the actions of what these attackers committed in Connecticut and in Xinyang.   But, if these people had been able to access the psychological support in their schools, communities and clinics in their area, perhaps we would not have had these tragedies.   Chilling statistics on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website remind us that:

Despite effective treatments, there are long delays, sometimes decades, between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. An untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat illness and to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses.


In any given year, only 20 percent of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services.

Organizations such as New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) have worked hard to help school professionals and families deal with these disparities.  They were some of the first groups to post helpful resources to help the families, friends and children that were dealing with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.  And they continue to advocate for legislative solutions to close this mental health gap.

The real conversation here is how we can have more people access more mental health services in our attempt to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring again in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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