It's time to talk about mental health care

By Liana Riesinger, HCF Program Officer

Liana RiesingerIt's been a busy year for HCF and our grantees. Before we bid farewell to an eventful year, our HCF associates take a look back at significant events and projects that helped make 2012 a productive year.

On day seven of our year in review, HCF Program Officer Liana Riesinger opens the dialogue about mental health in the U.S.

I hugged my six-year-old daughter tightly when I saw her last Friday afternoon. Tighter and longer than usual. This, in the wake of the massacre that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. She said, “Mom, why are you so happy to see me?”

I couldn’t explain.

Like everyone, I’m trying to comprehend what happened. In listening to mental health experts and policymakers’ reactions, a common theme I hear repeated is the need to reduce the stigma related to mental illness and how, by not doing so, creates a barrier to families and individuals seeking services.

As I sat down this week to reflect on my year in review and the work HCF is doing surrounding mental health, it was hard to think beyond what happened on Friday. My first thought was to share some of the important work our grantees are doing. I wanted to talk about how our community mental health centers and safety net clinics are working to integrate mental and physical health services. I wanted to share some of the school-based mental health services we fund. I wanted to talk about trauma-informed care. But all my thoughts led me back to Friday.

Whether at a shopping mall, movie theater or educational setting, these mass shootings seem to rekindle debates about not only gun control, but also about the state of our mental health system. While these are conversations vitally important, the irony in having these discussions following such tragedies is that evidence shows that the majority of people with mental illness do not commit violent acts. In fact, only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness. Alcohol and drug abuse is far more likely to result in violent behavior.

The days and months ahead will answer many questions about what led to the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Regardless of the answers, we need to take this opportunity to have these important discussions. We need to talk about how to increase access to mental health services. We need to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and treatment of mental illness.

HCF funded many programs this year that do just that in our service area, and while these services are vital to our community, our funding alone cannot solve these problems. As we look ahead, HCF vows to continue to not only support programs that increase access to mental health services but to also provide the advocacy and awareness that is needed to fight the stigma of mental illness. We owe this to our service area, the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the millions of people who struggle each day living with a mental illness.


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