In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown it is important to remember that most violent crimes, including gun crimes, are committed by people who do not have a mental illness, and the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are victims of crimes, not perpetrators. It is a mistake to broadly judge individuals with mental illnesses. They are no more violent than people without mental illnesses. They are our family, our neighbors and friends who, like so many, are grieving the loss and sharing the horror of this hideous act.
Even though mental illness exists in every state, every city and every neighborhood in the U.S. it’s far easier to buy a gun than to access mental health care. For many reasons, including safety, it is critical for people with mental illnesses to have early access and be able to receive effective treatment. Unfortunately, most can’t get help until they go into crisis.
When more focus is placed on mental health screening, early intervention, evidence-based mental health treatment and services, and family education and support, the entire community receives the benefits. Inclusion of mental health care as an "essential health benefit" in the Affordable Care Act is an important recent step in making recovery from mental illness a national priority.
If any good can result from a tragedy such as this it is to increase our understanding of how important our mental health care system is for everyone and to make mental health care a permanent national priority, not just in the days after tragedies.
The writer is president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Berkshire County (www.namibc.org) The mission of NAMIBC is to support, educate and advocate for all those in Berkshire County whose lives are affected by mental illnesses and their families.