As Americans, we must embrace a sustained effort to ensure solutions to our mental health crisis.
• This is a horrific tragedy. Along with other Americans, our hearts go out to all the families who have lost loved ones.
• It’s hard now to think of any good that might come from this situation. However, if there is a silver lining, it could be that it forces us as Americans to face this crisis we have in our country, to confront the stereotypes we embrace, to take steps to learn more about mental illness and what we can do to ensure that people have the care and treatment they need.
• Violent tragedies should not have to occur before the country realizes that mental health care must be a priority.
We must prioritize the promotion and availability of early intervention, treatment services and supports for individuals and families.
We must intervene earlier and ensure that essential mental health services and treatment are available at the earliest stages. We must demand:
o Ease of access to mental health professionals;
o Earlier and more assessable treatment; and
o Access to effective treatments and strategies.
Family education and support must be available to those in need.
• Families affected by mental illness need our help.
o Millions of Americans face the day-to-day reality of caring for a family member living with mental illness. It can be overwhelming.
o The reality is that when families get support—from many directions and programs—outcomes in all areas are improved.
o Families don’t always know where to go to get help or how to cope.
o Education and support programs for families affected by mental illness have the power to change lives for the better.
There are not confirmed details at this time to make a judgment about whether a serious mental illness was involved. Other than speculation, there’s no real information about a diagnosis, whether Adam Lanza was known to the mental health system, whether he or his family tried to get help or any other possibilities.
We do know that mental illness exists in every state, every city and every neighborhood of the U.S. One in four adults—nearly 60 million Americans—experiences a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with serious mental illness, and one in 10 children lives with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
Yet fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosed mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
We know is that it is generally very difficult for people to access early intervention and early treatment services for many reasons:
• There is a general lack of knowledge in the community about mental illness and how to get mental health care.
• The pervasive stigma, or rather social stereotypes, that prevail towards mental illness serve as a deterrent for people to seek help when they need it.
• Families sometimes don’t know to get help for loved ones manifesting symptoms of possible mental illness, or where to go.
• When individuals or families seek help and services, these services are frequently not available. This situation has grown worse in recent years with budget cuts, narrowing of eligibility criteria for services, limits on what services are available, etc.
We do know the U.S. Surgeon General determined over a decade ago that “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.” When violence does occur, it is usually because something has gone terribly wrong in the mental health care system. Either something has fallen short or something hasn’t happened at all.
During the recent presidential debates, mental health care was barely mentioned—not for children, not for families and only briefly for veterans. The most prominent mention was only in the context of assault weapons. That’s unacceptable.
The President in his remarks Sunday night pledged that he’ll use “ whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.”
NAMI represents millions of Americans affected by mental illness. We represent parents. We represent families. We get it. We’ve been there. We help other families and individuals. We work with law enforcement, teachers and mental health professionals.
We’re ready to work with the President and whoever else is ready. The need has existed for a long time—the test is whether the country is ready to really take it seriously.
NAMI Western Carolina is the local affiliate of NAMI , the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
NAMI offers free information, support and education programs for families, individuals and our community; NAMI and our grassroots volunteers advocate for research, treatment and services and work every day to raise awareness and build communities of hope for all of those in need.
Please contact us at 828-505-7353 or email@example.com. Your comments and opinions are welcome.