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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook Tragedy: Managing Mental Illness, Reducing Mass Violence and Change

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I had to write something on my blog. I can't get images of these children out of my mind. My son has even had nightmares at 14. A tragedy on so many levels, I only hope their lives are never forgotten.

I am clinical mental heath therapist and can tell you I've never been attacked or harmed in 25 years. Violence is not the norm in anyway when it comes to mental health. Unrecognized, untreated or under-treated symptoms and weak services are every bit as responsible for this tragedy, as are easy access to firearms and our social failure to fully fund and address mental health issues in the is United States. This really is not about looking backwards to blame but rallying to prevent future mass violence. We must looked forward for prevention

I only hope that this tragedy doesn't get cast away into yet another government committee or exploratory group to identify what can be done. This has already been done 1000 times. It is not a matter of knowing what to do to reduce the risks of mass violence or improve the mental health system in America, it is a matter of action and follow through. I would be glad to dedicate the next 20 years of my career to ensure best practices are enacted, reviewed, revised and continually improved when it comes to improving mental health services. Any one Presidents Obama's direct line?

To deal with problems I write. I write poetry and I write my ideas for solutions.

Reducing Mass Violence, Managing Mental Health and Preventing Future Sandy Hook Tragedies

Millions of people deal with some sort of symptoms that are associated with illnesses that affect the mind.  A short-hand version of these types of illness has been lumped into the catch-all phrase of ‘the mentally ill’.  While millions of people may have a major mental illness or symptoms that affect their mind, they are not any more dangerous than any other human being.  

I heard someone say on the radio today, “First we have to identify the people that have or don’t have a mental illness. If they have a mental illness and live alone then they should not be allowed to have guns.” Sadly, this understanding of a mental illness is what defines stigma.  Stigma prevents or slows individuals from getting treatment for mental health related issues. It is one barrier that creates risk for mass violence.

Violence in human society has been around since our inception. It comes in many forms and is practiced legally and illegally in different cultures, countries and smaller populations.  What we are talking about with regard to a goal for mass violence such as school shootings or shootings in movie theaters is reduction. The question to ask is: What can we continually do as a society to reduce the chances that any form of mass violence will happen in our schools, communities and country?

There is a lot we can do, in the way of prevention, if we look at intervening and reducing the chances of mass violence based on the three points of a triangle.  The three points of intent, mindset and resources are necessary for mass violence and there are methods to intervene at each point and reduce the risk of mass violence.  Intervention and prevention are the keys to reduction of any behavior. 

I have just about 25 years of experience in all aspects of community mental health. I’ve been a clinical mental health therapist in a hospital based community mental health clinic for the last 10 years. I have seen the mental health budgets deteriorate in Maryland over time as well as with the rest of the country. 

Mental health budgets have always been second hand citizen and were woefully underfunded 25 years ago. That is even true more so today.  Funding is not the sole reason for the recent killings in our schools. It is one piece that must be addressed but equal to that is the continued development of professional mental health services that use funds wisely and effectively to get the help needed into the communities they serve. A budget can't be set with hopes nothing bad happens. Something bad has happened and seems to be continuing to happen. It really is time for social change.

Improved mental health services in clinics, in schools and other places in our communities can help identify intent, they can help assess mindset and offer treatment alternatives to effectively manage mental health symptoms and illnesses. They can provide resources for support and treatment for both the individual with the illness and the family members that help provide care.  Resources are not only about mental health care. Individuals also need resources to get weapons.  Addressing this issue is as important as improving our mental health system. All angles that converged must be addressed and realigned.

If you intervene with any one point of the triangle you remove one aspect needed to achieve the behavior of mass violence. Improved intervention and prevention will reduce the chances of mass violence occurring. I only hope President Obama and Congress act. The key word being - act.

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