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USA Today on Fixing the Nation’s Mental Health System

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(Jan. 11, 2013) “From a classroom at Virginia Tech to a strip mall in Tucson to a movie theater in Colorado, a common thread runs through many of the nation's tragic mass murders: severe and untreated mental illness,” the USA Today editorial begins.

usatodayblog“Fixing problems with the nation's mental health system is a tall order,” “Fix broken mental health system” (Jan. 10) concludes. “Some require state action, some federal. But no response to Sandy Hook will be complete without them.”

We agree. To illustrate:

“In recent years, society has learned a lot about mass killers,” the editorial says. “All but one of the 62 worst mass killings in the past 30 years were carried out by males. The perpetrators have typically been young men who are psychopaths, or are suffering from suicidal depression or psychotic breaks.”

In the cases of Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho, Tucson killer Jared Loughner and accused Aurora killer James Holmes, “even strangers noticed something terribly wrong long before the killings. Yet none was receiving treatment at the time of their crimes.”

“How can that be?”

It can be, we know, because of five decades of failed mental health policies that have focused on making treatment for the most severe mental illnesses harder to get.

The Treatment Advocacy Center has proposed three public policies to address these failures and reduce the consequences of non-treatment of mental illness:

  • REFORM civil commitment laws that present barriers to treatment – and use them. 
  • STOP closing the public psychiatric hospitals that provide treatment to people with acute or chronic severe psychiatric disease and restore sufficient inpatient treatment facilities to treat them. 
  • STOP viewing mental illness as a state of freedom to be protected at all costs from involuntary treatment that would set individuals with mental illness on the road to recovery.

If you support these policies, here are three actions you can take:

  • IDENTIFY the deficiencies in your state so you know what your state needs to make treatment possible.
  • CALL OR WRITE your elected state leaders and demand that they take needed action.
  • URGE THE VICE PRESIDENT to include our common-sense policy proposals in his upcoming recommendations to President Obama.

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