A short time has passed since the tragic school shooting at Sandy Brook Elementary in Connecticut. There has been a multitude of commentary on gun control, school safety, and mental illness. Where does our country turn for solace in order to repair the wounds of violence? Is this a result of guns in the home, poor parenting, poor community supports, lack of safety at school, limited understanding of mental illness, or just a sign that our society is falling apart? Depending on one’s political or religious affiliation, social history, and life experiences, individuals and special interest groups will have a different opinion and plan of action.
I work in a psychiatric hospital and I see mental illness at its worst. In my opinion the tragedy on December 14th is a result of the culmination of many factors in the life of the shooter. It is undeniable that mental health was a factor, but all people with mental illness do not go on killing sprees murdering innocent people. It is unfair to stigmatize mental illness and assume if this person had been treated this would not have happened. If given the opportunity we may have discovered many things about the life of this individual that led to this event, one possibility being mental illness.
With that said, we may find a silver lining in the fight for mental illness awareness. People have begun to ask what their communities are doing to ensure their residents are safe and mental illness is addressed. According to a local non-profit one in four adults experience mental illness and one in 6 have a serious mental illness. This fact is staggering. Does this mean that one in six people are at risk for shooting school children? No, of course not; but it does mean that about a quarter of the people you know have some form of mental illness. It does mean that our society needs to pay closer attention to mental illness and provide treatment for as it would for any other illness before it is too late.
Texas is currently ranked 50th in spending per capita on mental health services according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). On average states spend $122.90 per capita, Texas spends the least, coming in at $38.38 while the District of Columbia is on top spending $388.83 per capita. As a practitioner in Texas, the lack of funding is apparent and the outlook for mental illness resources is abysmal. With our country facing a “fiscal cliff” and cuts being made to every portion of our budget, there is hope that funding will be spared for mental health due to the unfortunate fact that mass shootings are on the rise in America and have been even more prominent in 2012.
Some of us are activists and lobbyist and will dedicate time, money and energy to this cause. For the rest of us, change must start small. From within. Within our homes, talking to one another. Within our workplaces and schools, reaching out to others who appear “different.” Within our community, raising awareness through education and support. Within ourselves. As individuals we can strive to be more aware and make mental health a priority everyday, not just when a tragedy strikes.
Here is an interactive link to see where your state ranks on mental health spending See where your state ranks and tell us what you think. We would love to hear your perspective!