The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County joins Americans in mourning the loss of those killed in Saturday’s tragic and senseless attack and expressing our wishes for the full recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and fellow citizens who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who is affected by these horrific events. And we join in applauding the brave actions of individuals who prevented greater harm.
It will take more time to begin to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy. It must first be emphasized that people who live with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. There are science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.
At the same time, we must recognize that the nation’s mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. Sadly, in the current environment of strained state budgets, mental health services have been cut drastically just as demand for these critical services has risen dramatically.
It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara teaches a groundbreaking public education program – Mental Health First Aid – that helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Mental Health First Aid is an interactive 12-hour course funded by the Mental Health Service Act that teaches participants about the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems and provides an overview of common treatment options.
Successful participants of the program are certified as Mental Health First Aiders and learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social and self-help care.
Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to get them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use.
Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services.
We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy.
We do hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this from ever happening again.
For more information about mental health services available in Santa Barbara County, please call the Mental Health Association at (805) 884-8440 or visit online. The Mental Health Association is a private, non-profit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness.