Tragic events happen every day. When they involve public figures, the media provides a tremendous amount of coverage. This was especially true for the recent tragedy in Arizona involving the deaths of several persons including a member of Congress. The shooter is reported to be a young man with a history of mental illness.
This has created much debate about whether this could have been predicted or prevented. Signs of erratic behavior for the shooter were previously reported and left many questions. Why was he not receiving mental health treatment? Why was he allowed to obtain a gun? Why didn’t his family do something to prevent this tragedy? These questions naturally lead to a discussion of larger societal issues and realities.
Many people seek mental health treatment if they are fortunate enough to have the resources. If not, the available community resources attempt to fill in the wide treatment gaps. The economic downturn has been stressful to many and the resulting mental health needs have severely increased the need for services. And in the current fiscal climate, most states are reducing funds to provide treatment services to persons with mental illnesses. As a result, patient referrals are increasing while mental health treatment services are seeing decreased funding.
The realities are that persons with mental health issues do not always seek treatment, or perhaps are not always compliant with taking prescribed medication that can help regulate some of their behaviors. Another reality is that guns are readily available to anyone and can be obtained legally or illegally.
We also cannot blame the families of persons with mental illness. Many families have exhausted their resources and/or are not able to obtain adequate services. Families sometimes are dealing with these issues on their own and have endured a lack of safety for themselves and their loved ones. They are at times simply at their wit’s end in trying to meet the needs and they don’t know where to turn.
Can tragedies such as the horror in Arizona be predicted? Predicting the behavior of an individual is difficult. Yet there are patterns of behavior and life experiences that may lead to violence, which can be assessed and treated. There are also many excellent services available for prevention, assessment, treatment, advocacy and support for the individuals and their families, but there are not enough of these resources to meet the need.
Hopefully, this recent tragedy and others will bring awareness to the plight of the mentally ill, their families and how desperately more resources are needed in our communities, statewide and nationally. Let us not wait until another tragedy occurs to seek solutions to these issues.
Mental Health Care