Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newtown Tragedy: Push for Mental Health Reform

By Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

It’s almost a week now since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

America’s hearts are still broken.

Although news reports have gotten many facts wrong over the last week, it seems clear now that the young man responsible for the tragedy had lived with a form of mental illness since childhood.

The tragedy has resulted in an enormous push for the country to make a sustained effort to provide real solutions to our mental health crisis, as well as gun control. The test is whether Congress, state legislatures and the country as a whole are serious enough to face up to the challenge.

It’s not a new challenge. NAMI has been fighting on the mental health care front for many years, with victories and defeats. What’s tragic is that it has taken a horrible tragedy to wake others up.

This past week, NAMI has been working 24/7 to stoke the momentum. We have given close to 100 interviews to national and regional media outlets. We are talking with Senators and Members of Congress about legislation in the coming New Year. NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates have circulated press releases and other information to their own networks.

Again, it shouldn’t have taken a national tragedy to get this far, especially when we consider how many personal tragedies Americans affected by mental illness experience every year.

Start contacting Congress and state legislators now.

Keep the pressure on.

Tell them they need to step up to ensuring mental healthcare.

They need to make the availability of screening, early intervention, treatment, services and supports a national priority.

Family education and support must also be part of mental health care. Too many families don’t fully understand the nature of mental illness, what to do if they are concerned about a child and how to cope.

President Obama has pledged to 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 to prevent more tragedies.”

NAMI represents individuals who actually live with mental illness.

We represent parents and other kinds of family members. We have a long track record working with law enforcement, educators and mental health professionals.

We’re ready to work with the President.

Is the rest of the country?

Talk with your friends and neighbors. Ask them to help.

Selected News Links

USA Today: Mother's Anguished Plea Becomes Internet Sensation

NBC Evening News: Lack of Funding, Stigma Stymies Mental Health Care

Christian Science Monitor: Cracks in Mental Health Care

Wall Street Journal: Guns and Mental Illness

Christian Science Monitor: Was Lanza Lashing Out Against Treatment?

National Public Radio: Who Would Carry Out a School Shooting?

Bloomberg/BusinessWeek: Prevent Massacres; Expand Medicaid

18 comments: said...

If the shooter in Newtown, CT who appears to have been headed to a Probate court Hearing knew what I do about how hopeless it is to get a Fair Trial in a probate court in CT, then I would completely understand his actions.

The court appoints an attorney for the mentally ill only when they want to take away rights from him and never when he wants to initiate a court action to get back rights. The attorney will never appeal the case when the ill person loses. The attorney is only hired for the motion that the court wants to hear.The attorney will almost never be trained in this specialty of law. The mentally ill will almost never have any witnesses to testify on his behalf. The attorney will not propose any alternatives. The only thing the mentally ill person's attorney will do is ask a few polite questions of the opposing side and they will almost never effect the outcome of the hearing.

JULIE HALL said...

I will talk to anyone about the how broken our mental health system is and the devastating results on my family.

Martina Nicholson said...


drscmaloney said...

The more we can open our hearts and minds with understanding and determination to treat those with mental illness as individuals with a disease/disorder, no different from heart disease or diabetes, the better our collective health and wellness will be overall. Interestingly, we never once question the person with diabetes and heart disease who is morbidly obese and eating themselves into renal failure, limb amputations, and a certain death...but one school shooting or delusional homicide committed by someone with mental illness, and now everyone takes notice. The loss of life can take many forms, and yes, it is well past time to look with eyes wide open at an empathic approach to the psychological health of individuals.

Ryan said...

As someone with a mental illness this is a good thing and a bad thing the media is putting too much into the fact that he was mentally ill, and in my part of the country they are leaving that as the bad thing about him. I try not to follow this stuff because it turns into a witch hunt more often than it should. I mean mental health education should mandated in school health classes, it's easier to seek help for your self than waiting for someone else to step in for you, at least that is how I look at it. Hopefully this will take away some of the stigma's we face with mental health because they are part of the reason some people go without help. I can't believe it took something this bad to wake people up either, I often joke with my doctors that I want the people making viagra to moonlight on anti-psyche meds. They took something that no-one really wanted to talk about and made it into a publicly noticed medicine. And maybe it's just something as simple as making the meds more widely accepted to get the ball moving?

I think gun control should be left out of this issue though because people can't make the right choices on mental health patients owning guns if the majority of the public is misinformed on what a mental illness really is. I know people that have to hunt and if they dont get a deer it's a long winter for them, so if one is diagnosed with a mental illness and can't get the tools they need to hunt they wont eat. And the hospital around here has some bad doctors that are to eager to threaten you with a blue slip even after you feel ready to return to life.

Ultimately right now my heart goes out to the victims families because they are in a whole world of hurt right now.

Anonymous said...

I ask NAMI to work to clarify that the majority of people with mental illness are not violent. This whole situation reinforces a lot of wrong ideas about what mental illness looks like most of the time. And when people talk about tracking people who've been "involuntarily" committed for treatment, I've seen a friend handcuffed when arriving at a city treatment facility. She wasn't violent at all, and she came with me willingly after I persuaded her to come with me in the police car (I called 911 because she was hearing voices putting her down and insulting her and she said she wanted to kill herself). But policy was that she be considered involuntary and be handcuffed. She, like many others I know with mental illnesses, myself included, wouldn't hurt a fly. Yes, some people out there would, but most of us don't experience illness in that way at all. And now we get to be lumped in with mass murders yet again.

Amanda Mcgauley said...

I have been saying this for years! Sure we need gun reform, but more importantly we need mental health care reform in this country!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The present legal system is merciless toward people with brain disorders. They are uneducated about mental illness and to incarcerate those with misdemeanors is more harmful than helpful. Can't even find an attorney who can help with legal matters created when my son was episodic. He has warrants out for his arrest for being too sick to appear in court. Have to live in fear of arrest of him, now that he is doing well and incarceration without medication or treatment is out of the question. He is non violent, yet most people have the view that mental illness equals possible horrific acts. Yes we need Mental Health Reform that makes accessing help (including legal help) possible.

Anonymous said...

I have some comments that I think are appropriate for this situation.

1. This past election showed me that our politicians in Washington DC are all paranoid schizophrenics and they were trying to make more people like them to get their vote, and, the longer they have been in office, the more schizophrenic they are.

2. After attending local NAMI, AA, OCD, NA and similar type meetings,
because of some minor mental issues I knew I was having and had been dealing with for years, and listening to people, I realize that mental illness is not like cancer. Mental Illness is like a cold. We all get it in some form at least once a year. Some times, several times a year. And some people get several forms of mental illness all at once. And some people have been dealing with several forms of mental illness for years.

3. The stigma about mental illness needs to be eliminated. We are all aflicted with some form of it.

Anonymous said...

Please officially respond to the National Rifle Association's comments on mental illness.

Wayne LaPierre said, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics” and complained that de-institutionalization of the mentally ill had put too many dangerous people on the streets of America. “We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets,” LaPierre said.

I find these statements to be horribly offensive and stigmatizing. I am neither a lunatic nor a monster and I do not need to be placed in an asylum for the protection of this country.

Anonymous said...

If NAMI wants my support they must either oppose gun control or keep silent. One gun in the hands of a CT teacher and there would be 20 children and 6 adults still alive. Irregardless of their mental health issues, homicidal people need to be put down, not helped. Not everyone can be cured. And yes, I have issues but I am not homicidal.

Dawn said...

Having worked as a psych tech for 26 and a half years, I'm well aware of our broken mental health system. I also have family members who suffer from a mental illness and have found it hard to access help for them.Lack of support and broad rules, allow many, to fall through the cracks. The bottom line is, our mental health sytem is long overdue for some overhauling.Most of my experience is in forensic mental health, but I have also worked at a daycare center as the nurse for a community program. I saw far too many people being sent out for community treatment who weren't able to function in the community for one reason or another, but it was cheaper for the govt. at the local and state level. If we continue to ignore these people, we suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

AS a resident of CT and a person who suffers from a mental illness. Mental Health needs to be the priority. Our state has one of the strictest gun laws in the country. Our governor has cut over the last two months over 80 million from social services alone. The rest of the money has been pulled from hospitals and other needed programs to cover a defect of over spending. Trying to get adequate help in CT for mental health issues is harder then trying to get a gun. Why is it the politicians take no real action for individuals who suffer from mental illness and not hold them selves accountable for the lack of support for people who are being discriminated against because of this incident. Everyone blames the shooting on a person with a mental illness; but where is the increased funding and advertising for people who suffer from mental illness? CT needs the mental health organizations to stand up and push for mental health reform and to fight the discriminatory and harassing comments towards people who are suffering from mental illnesses.

mmmann2010 said...

I worked in various mental and behavioral health systems for over 25 years. My last position was in upper management with a residential organization for youth and families in crisis.

The heartbreaking events in Newtown CT and now miles from my home in Webster NY are sadly not at all surprising to me. To be honest, I am surprised that we don't have more such incidents and from the looks of it, the trend is increasing.

Human dignity and personal rights are something I fought for during my entire career. Unfortunately, the drastic discontinuation of quality mental health programs over the last 20 years, mainly due to cost is the real villain here. Couple that with increasing restrictions and regulations due to lawsuits that restrict care providers from even protecting the mentally ill from themselves has all but frozen the system.

My heart breaks when I see a homeless person walking the streets because the overwhelming percentage are mentally ill and have nowhere to be safe and warm.

In working with youth in crisis, I eventually retired due to the stress and inability to do any lasting good for these kids and families. On one occasion, a 15 year old who was about 5'2" and weighed about 100 almost choked his father to death in my office. While doing this, he also managed to head-butt and injure a male social worker and his mother before I could get a call to 911. His last words to me before several officers had to be involved to take him away were "You know Charles Manson's name and someday everyone will know mine." I believe him and am waiting.

I'd gladly contribute to any discussion or forum regarding this situation. The unfortunate truth is that I have an abundance of information to share.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that NAMI is again lacking in dealing with the Newtown tragedy. Yes, it is an exceptionally sad event but it is also an opportunity for our country. But it is also an opportunity for NAMI to stop being afraid to speak out for those whom they profess be advocates. NAMI needs to be LOUD, clear, fearless, in-their-faces. They need to be seen and heard by the media over and over and over again until we finally get the help our people deserve. Never stop! A one-time letter or statement is not sufficient. I want to hear NAMI officials on TV, radio, meetings (even the NRA)and congress town hall meetings throughout the country, and in the print media speak out and demand fair treatment -- treatment which very well may have prevented this and other such tragedies. Blood is on the hands of Congress, NRA, state and local leaders, ourselves and NAMI. NAMI, now is the time to grow a backbone - don't let this window of opportunity close with no action. Enough!

JohnMikal said...

Your call for more "...screening, early intervention, treatment, services and supports..." is wonderful in many regards, and may go a long way towards helping many people in this country. But it does not address the real issue in the broken mental health care system that is contributing to tragedies such as Snady Hook. That is, the failure of the current mental health care system to look for the underlying causes of mental illness.

Virtually all people with mental disorders are given an insignificant examination that would be considered malpractice in any other health care field. Without addressing the possible causes of their conditions, patients with mental disorders are typically put on psychiatric medication that have as side effects, increased ideation of suicide and violent behavior. In almost every case of mass murder in the US over the past 40 years, the perpetrator has been on psychiatric medications. None of these mass murders have been committed by people with mental disorders who are not on medication.

To advocate for more mental health care without fundamentally altering how it is administered (i.e. finding the real causes of their condition and reducing the amount of drug administrations), would only result in more people being medicated and very likely, an increase in violent tragedies.

References supporting these statements are available on request.

Anonymous said...

The most important thing we can do to improve mental health care is to find people who are drug addicted, distressed or traumatized early and treat them with counselling, not drugs, early so that their problems do not turn into full blown mental illness. Nearly every case of Bipolar disorder can be linked to trauma or drug abuse. I am suspicious that this may be true for schizophrenia too although the data is not there to show that....yet. Many people do not understand that trauma or drug abuse can lead to these critical and long term mental health problems. Counselling and education in the early stages of distress or trauma or drug abuse would prevent virtually every instance of serious mental health diagnosis and reduce psychiatric drug requirements to those few people in the mental health system with true physiological or chemical differences or to cases where intervention with respectful counselling and education was not achieved. The honest and compassionate way to prevent violence committed by mental health victims is to prevent the disorder in the first place through early intervention with counselling and education ~ not drugs

Krista Ariss said...

The psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment..
Trivedi Effect