Can we now talk about Mental Health?


    (This issue is crucial, yet receives almost no discussion in our country. That’s a tragedy. Thanks to Gretchen for bringing it to our attention! – promoted by lowkell)

    After the horrible shooting on Saturday, the one thing I think most of us, liberal and conservative, agree on is that the person who did the shooting had mental health issues.  Many people reported how “disturbing” they found him to be.  One community college told him he could not return without a doctor saying he was no longer a danger to himself or others.  Many of us are asking, why did no one follow up?  So let’s have a serious discussion about mental health.

    First, let’s put it on the table that the large majority of those suffering from the most well known diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar do not turn violent.  But it is also true that without treatment, many of those suffers self-medicate using illegal drugs or abusing legal drugs.  This means that consistent and monitored treatment, which may need time-consuming and costly trial and error testing to find the right medication and dose, will go a long way to helping solve two problems — getting sufferers the help they need to live in society as best they can, and also making it less likely that someone takes an inappropriate medication that causes a psychotic break.

    And we don’t need to go to Arizona to see the impact that not treating our mentally ill can have a very big effect in our communities.  Right here in Fairfax County, we have seen something tragic happen every year.  In 2006, Detective Vicky Armel and Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino were shot and killed by 18 year old Michael Kennedy, a known sufferer of schizophrenia.

    Former Fairfax student Seung Hui Cho, as well all remember, gunned down students during an otherwise ordinary day at Virginia Tech in April 2007.  He also had been diagnosed with mental health issues, and fell through the cracks for follow up and treatment.

    In November of 2009, David Masters, a man known for being bi-polar, was shot by police on busy Route 1.  

    And in February of 2010, police were called to the home of Ian Smith, a young man who had a history of hospitalizations for violent and out of control behavior.  He pulled a toy gun on officers, who opened fire, wounding, but not killing him, or being killed themselves.

    We here in Fairfax County are blessed that gunfighting is not a daily occurrence in our lives, so every shooting takes on a “let’s see the big picture” aspect.  Also, every time a gun is fired, justified or not, the possibility for an innocent bystander to be hurt or killed is very real.  Given the repeated pattern of annual shootings right here, what has been our response to the mental health crisis?

    In 2009, facing a massive state deficit, Governor McDonnell recommended cutting 300 million from mental health state benefits.  Hospital beds for those in acute crisis went down by more than 200.  Five percent cuts hit community boards that acted to treat substance abuse with legal and monitored treatment.  These cuts were made with bi-partisan support from both Republicans and Democrats.

    So this is the question I’m asking today — how many people — mentally ill suffers, police officers, innocent bystanders — how many of us have to die or have our lives put in danger before we face up that this is a serious issue that needs serious attention?  What happened in Arizona; what has happened repeatedly here in Fairfax County, should not only be seen as a “terrible tragedy.”  It should a call to action by a citizenry to reform and enhance current mental health programs.  But it can’t be done without money, and it can’t be done without effort and support from people from both sides of the political aisle.

    Will you be one of those people?  Or should we just start the clock ticking until the next “terribly tragedy” happens?


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