I received a number of responses to my recent newsletter on gun safety measures I believe we should adopt in Washington State; many highlighted the need for a renewed focus on mental health treatment services.
My newsletter focused on the work of Professor Richard Florida at the University of Toronto who has written about the intersection of gun safety regulations and deaths by firearms. But, there are clearly other factors we must consider as well in the wake of tragedies like the one last Friday in Connecticut. Focusing in from broader gun violence to the mass shooting incidents in the last year, we have seen a trend of perpetrators who struggle with mental illness. (It is also worth noting, as this New York Times article does, that the vast majority of perpetrators of violence do not suffer from mental illness, and those who do suffer from psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.)
It’s shameful that as a society we do not adequately care for those with mental health challenges. Just walk around the streets of our downtown neighborhoods and you will see what I mean; struggling individuals suffering mental health problems and many of them with nowhere to turn. These issues are very complicated, but we know what can help—providing on-demand treatment services.
I’m no expert, but many professionals have told me that individuals suffering a mental health crisis will sometime have moments of clarity when they recognize their need and will reach out for help. It’s at this precise moment that we must have services available. It doesn’t work to listen to their plea and then place them on a waiting list for the next week or month when services become available. It’s at that specific moment that we should welcome the individual and begin immediate treatment and care.
Yes, this level of on-demand services costs a lot of money, but it is long overdue. When we deinstitutionalized the mental health system decades ago, we never built an adequate network of community-based mental health clinics to take their place. So we already pay a lot in increased costs for emergency room visits, police, and the disruptions caused by street disorder when these individuals are not cared for in appropriate ways. State budget cuts have harmed mental health programs and we need to reverse this trend. State government should put our money where it will work most effectively, up front with the kind of services these neighbors of ours deserve.For more resources about mental illness support services available locally, you can visit this page of the Seattle chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami-greaterseattle.org/links.html.