Between 2009 and 2013, states have cut an astounding $4.35 billion in mental health funding. This should not come as a surprise, as social service programs tend to be the first budget items cut during difficult fiscal times. This begs to question if our state and federal legislators understand the importance of mental health treatment, never mind the significance of mental health treatment for adolescents.
We are embarking on the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, something easily forgotten during the hustle of the holiday season. Adam Lanza, the fourteen year old perpetrator whose actions led to the death of twenty kids and six staff members was no stranger to the mental health system. Yet in many ways the mental health system failed him, since many warning signs were ignored, and Lanza was left with a diagnosis of mild autism (formerly known as Asperger’s). There is no question that the perpetrators family holds some responsibility in their sons actions, particularly by providing him with access to the weapons used in the tragic shooting. I advocate that we not get into the finger pointing game by blaming the Lanza family, mental health providers operating with limited resources, or even lawmakers such as for instance Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, who accidentally planned a ‘Family Firearm Safety Event’ on the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. Let’s find solutions instead.
We are at the pinnacle of the mental health field, with opportunities to learn how the mental health system might adapt and evolve, in order to address and prevent tragedies such as that in Newtown. Our responsibility as mental health providers is to educate teachers, parents, lawmakers, and anyone who will listen on the importance of mental health treatment. Millions of Americans are struggling with mental health disorders, most of whom not receiving the treatment they desperately need - let’s do something about it!