Sunday, December 16, 2012


As we learn more about yet another unspeakable tragedy we also ponder in frustration over the state of mental health care in America.  While mass violence forever changes the landscapes of educational and community institutions, we look for courageous leaders who will take the reins and improve the accessibility, affordability and effectiveness of mental health services for the most vulnerable among us.

In higher education settings, the lives of every member of a campus community have been and will be deeply affected by fears of violence.  Alert systems, enhanced reporting and communication methods concerning potential threats, response teams and capable public safety operations are all now a part of daily campus life.  We have gotten better at identifying and providing initial responding to students in distress.  But what do we do after that?

The answer is a feeble one.  In many jurisdictions, there aren't enough psychiatric beds to hold all the individuals who may be of concern.  There aren't statutes which permit a mental health professional to issue an order to law enforcement to detain a threatening individual and hold him or her in a hospital   The process of petitioning for commitment in these same hospitals can take weeks, even longer.  The average stay in those hospitals may be two to five days.  For many, especially the un- and under-insured, there may be a long wait to follow up with a mental health professional after discharge.  Hospitals are closing, patients are being released into "community care", but there may be no such thing in reality.  In short, all the current incentives, intentional or not, are to block access to care.

As you see in the news, these issues occur at a time of threat and anxiety.  The families of the dead and maimed are looking for support and answers.  We are learning more about the factors behind and indicators of risk for potentially violent individuals.  But we can tell them more about that than we can about what to do with them.  This is a national travesty and it must be addressed.  Please press your legislators to take action.  Demand that they develop sound, sustainable funding models for state services.  Demand that they sponsor legislation that provides a rapid and seamless system of detainment and treatment for people who threaten our safety.  Tell them to support mental health insurance parity.  The folks in Newtown, Portland, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, Blacksburg and many other past and future communities are waiting for our help.