Mental Health Care Key to Ending Mass Shootings

Mental Health Care Key to Ending Mass Shootings


Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ)

As a survivor of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., two-and-a-half years ago, I am determined that no one else should have to endure such grief and loss.

So this week, as we observe the six-month anniversary of the senseless and tragic murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I am determined to lead a bipartisan effort to get more done in Washington.

Since I came to Congress one year ago, I have worked to find common ground and solutions for Southern Arizona and for the good of our country.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., many of my colleagues in Congress knew that we must work together to make sure such a tragedy was never allowed to happen again.

While there is no single answer to preventing mass shootings, we know that untreated or undiagnosed serious mental illness has been a factor in a number of the recent tragedies. We must do more to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. And we must invest in the early identification of mental illness and in treatment programs.

This issue was among the topics discussed recently at the White House mental health summit, which I attended.
The event, hosted by the president, brought together mental health experts, faith leaders, advocates, service providers and state and local elected officials. The goal was to connect a broad range of interested parties and build national support for improvements in mental health services.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states have cut $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets during the economic recession. Sixty percent of people living with a mental illness are not receiving the care that they need. We must do better.

It is important to note that more than 95 percent of individuals living with a mental illness are not violent. They are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

The young man who killed six people and wounded 13 in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011, had displayed symptoms of mental illness for at least two years prior to the shooting — and yet he never received a diagnosis or treatment.
We are left to ask, “Could this tragedy have been prevented if he had been provided mental health services?” I believe this and other such mass shootings could have been averted if the public were more aware of the indications of mental illness and how to get help.

It is clear that we must expand mental health awareness of, and treatment services for, 100 percent of individuals living with mental illness. That is why I introduced the Mental Health First Aid Act earlier this year with strong bipartisan support.

This legislation would provide training to help first responders, educators, students, parents and the general public identify and respond to signs of mental illness.

This is one bipartisan step we can take to increase mental health awareness, but there is still much more we can do to improve mental health care in our country.

We must invest in mental health professionals and resources in our schools and throughout our communities, ensure timely and accessible services to our returning war veterans, and guarantee that insurance plans provide coverage for mental health care alongside physical health care.

This is not a partisan issue, and it should be one that unites all of us in Congress. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand with me in support of the expansion of mental health services.
Americans are calling on us to get something done. This is an area in which we can make progress if we do it together. The country is watching and anxiously awaiting our response.



    • Really!??? Are we that gullible to believe that these mass gunman are mentally ill? Pre-meditation is not mental illness. These mass gunman have pre-meditatied there shootings. Adam Lanza was never proven to have a mental illness. The media labeled him with Aspergers. I understand that people want to blame something for the tragic incidents that have taken place, but to make the stigma on mental illness worse and attach mass shooters to it is just ridiculous. What is next? Are serial killers going to be mentally ill, even though they have an IQ of a genius half the time? I keep on saying until someone or someone’s family or close friend or acquaintance is affected by mental illness they will not understand what it is unless they become educated. By attaching more stigma to mental illness is not educating the general public. It’s scaring them!

  1. While the author’s heart is in the right place, the solutions he proposes are not the right ones: ” We must do more to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. And we must invest in the early identification of mental illness and in treatment programs.”

    1. I know of no hospital that refused to admit a patient because they feared it would cause stigma or prematurely released a patient to reduce stigma. They refuse admission and discharge quicker because there are not enough hospital beds. The role of ‘stigma; in preventing access to care (if any) is inversely related to severity of illness: the higher functioning, less ill you are, the more embarrassed you may be to get care. But for people in the throes of psychosis, stigma is not even an issue.

    2. Identification has never been the problem with mass shooters.Almost all incidences of violence involving people with serious mental illness, the families knew their loved ones were desperately ill, tried to get the mental-health system to help, but were turned away. As I previously wrote in The Huffington Post, Jared Loughner, who shot Gabrielle Giffords; James Holmes, who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Reagan; Aaron Bassler, who shot a former mayor of Fort Bragg, Calif.; Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who mailed explosive packages around the country; Ian Stawicki, who shot five others and then himself in Seattle; Eduardo Sencion, who shot five National Guardsmen at a Nevada IHOP restaurant; Russell Weston, who shot two guards at the U.S. Capitol building; and Adam Lanza, who shot his mother, 26 others, and himself in Newtown, Conn. — all were known to be ill before they became headlines.

    The problem wasn’t sigma, it wasn’t lack of identification. It was lack of treatment. There is more than enough money in the system ($100 billion) but it is going to the highest functioning, stigma efforts and early identification, not treatment.
    DJ Jaffe
    Exec. Dir.
    Mental Illness Policy Org