Services, support can help eliminate tragedies

Opinion Editorial by Gregory D. Paffhouse, NLCMHA CEO  in Grand Traverse Insider

January was a month of much public sadness and tragedy. The Tucson shooting and Traverse City murder-suicide are but two events that angered, shocked and saddened us and left us wondering why these things happen and what could have been done to prevent them. Life is precious and these incidents change lives forever.

While few who complete such acts of violence are persons with a mental illness, our tendency is to blame them or think anyone capable of such an act must be mentally ill. Sadly, people commit acts of violence to resolve deeply personal and/or complex problems. Such violence only creates more victims and results in our feeling less secure, angry, and often blaming others when we don’t understand.

What many don’t know is that persons with serious mental illnesses are as likely – or unlikely – to commit acts of violence as anyone else. As a group they are more likely to be victims of violence. One in five has some type of mental health condition. They are family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or ourselves.

The one group where research does shows a small link with violence (people with paranoid schizophrenia who abuse substances) can be helped through early intervention and the right services and supports.

President Obama, in his Tucson memorial remarks, said this tragedy should foster national dialogue. He asked: “Are our mental health services adequate?” In advocating for continued funding, Linda Rosenberg, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare President, stated, “People who need mental health services do not magically disappear when funding is cut.”

Those of us who are privileged to work in mental health must ensure services and supports are not only adequate but demonstrate expected results.

For Northern Lakes CMH, expected outcomes include ensuring people have meaningful and satisfying work; opportunities to volunteer; success in the educational setting; meaningful relationships; a safe living environment of their choice and with whom they want; community membership, inclusion and participation; a reduction in psychiatric symptoms; sobriety; and an enhanced overall quality of life.

Mental health services must be accessible, accountable, welcoming, and include emergency and other early intervention services for those with the most severe and most resistant conditions. This includes assisting persons with signs and symptoms of mental illness to seek treatment in pursuit of their recovery.

Collectively we have a responsibility to address factors that lead people to violence and to assist them to seek nonviolent solutions. We need to provide people with knowledge and skills to take action when they encounter a family member, friend or acquaintance experiencing a mental health problem.

This year Northern Lakes CMH will have Mental Health First Aid training available to help our community members understand signs and symptoms, know how to respond, and what resources are available. This, along with other important community efforts, can support existing and create additional community assets to increase knowledge and skills, eliminate stigma and reduce the underlying factors leading to violence.