The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 22, 2012

Our View: Mental health care the missing ingredient

Rahm Emanuel, then President Obama’s chief of staff, told a business conference a few years ago that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

While he was referring to the economy, the same could be applied to the shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn.

Already both sides of the gun control debate are digging into their respective and predictable positions. We as a nation are quick to use our bias when the opportunity arises to serve our individual needs — whether it is banning guns or allowing their unfettered use — while missing what could prove to be less contentious and more helpful which is addressing the need for better care in mental health.

Given that President Obama has pledged a response by January, an all-encompassing answer is elusive and appears to be centering specifically on weapons and ammo. And that’s a shame because there is still a presidential commission report that the president could reactivate. An exhaustive report from President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health emphasized the need to transform the mental health system in the United States including recommendations for services and support for people of all ages.

On April 29, 2002, the president identified three obstacles preventing Americans with mental illnesses from getting the excellent care they deserve: Stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, unfair treatment limitations and financial requirements placed on mental health benefits in private health insurance, and the fragmented mental health service delivery system.

President Bush said, “... Americans must understand and send this message: mental disability is not a scandal — it is an illness. And like physical illness, it is treatable, especially when the treatment comes early.”

Even today, the inference if not the direct labeling of the shooter in Newtown was “psycho,” “evil,” or, as the NRA said in its statement Friday, “genuine monsters.” We clearly are not getting the message.

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