How many more public shootings does America need to get serious about mental health issues? (Jose Luis Magana / AP)
Before there is another call to 911 to report yet one more shooting and killing in America, we need to pause and ask what more can we do as a society to prevent such tragedies.
The most recent killing took place on a mall in Columbia, Md. A man carrying a shotgun opened fire, killing two employees and then himself. As of this writing, we don’t know the motive. We do know the painful outcome.
This violent acting out is becoming all too familiar a tragedy — homicidal and suicidal lunacy raining down fear and terror on us. If these attacks came from an external source the country would coalesce around a plan of action. We are disintegrating from within and are paralyzed by inaction.
There is no need to recite the series of tragic shootings by mentally unstable people in the recent past. The pain is seared into the public’s consciousness.
While the overwhelming number of people with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of a crime, multiple recent tragic incidents underscore the horrible consequences of what can happen when people with a serious mental illness are not properly diagnosed and treated. With proper treatment and support many people with serious mental illnesses can recover and prosper.
Michigan recently released a plan to improve mental health services throughout the state, calling for better coordination of care among providers and better integration of mental health services into general health care. Weaved throughout the recommendations is the expectation for enhanced data gathering and reporting in services geared for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance use disorders and active campaigns to actively fight the “stigma” of mental illness.
Clearly we need to break down the shame and stigma that in far too many instances prevent individuals and families from seeking needed mental health treatment.
We need to assure that people in crisis know what number to call before a panic call is made after tragedy strikes.
Clip these numbers, load them into your smartphone and post them on your fridge to have handy in a time of need:
In Detroit and Wayne County the 24/7 crisis hotline is: (800) 241-4949
In Oakland crisis hotline is: (800) 231-1127
Macomb crisis hotline is: (800) 273-8255
Washtenaw crisis hotline is: (800) 440-7548
Livingston crisis hotline is: (800) 615-1245
The United Way services Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and Washtenaw counties with their 2-1-1 information and referral service. 2-1-1 provides free and confidential information services.
Call 2-1-1 for help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and more.
Americans are fed up with senseless gun violence. Congress has grown far too comfortable protecting the status quo. The status quo is killing our children and is rotting the moral fabric of this country from the inside out. It is time we take action.
Thoughtful Americans must organize and advocate for a balanced approach to gun violence in America including, at a minimum:
■Make quality mental health services for people with serious mental illness available and affordable.
■Address the culture of violence perpetuated by the video and entertainment industry. These “entertainment” games are corrosive to a healthy and stable society.
■ Establish sensible gun controls and universal background checks that allow for legitimate gun ownership for sport, self-protection or collection purposes, while banning assault weapons with ammunition clips capable of shooting dozens of high-powered bullets in seconds.
The time is now for America’s sensible center to rise up with the indignation, pain and sorrow we felt when hearing about the 20 6-and 7-year-old children being slaughtered in the sanctity of their school, in Newtown, which has since become the symbolic “statue of liberty” of our country.
While more than two-thirds of Americans support some form of sensible gun controls and universal background checks, the Washington gun lobby have prevented action.
There is bipartisan agreement on action needed to strengthen mental health services. Yet to date Congress has not acted.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, has once again called for value added mental health legislation, The Excellence in Mental Health Act. Three U.S. House members from Michigan —David Camp, Sandy Levin and Fred Upton — hold the key to advancing this legislation along with Congressman Waxman from California. It would be wonderful if our congressional delegation would take the lead in moving this sensible national legislation from talk to law.
After each senseless shooting our collective refrain is: “We must do something.” Passing Stabenow’s Excellence in Mental Health Act would be a good start.
We need a 911 call to Reps. Camp, Levin and Upton and other legislators asking them to act.
Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.