Behind every assault rifle and every mass shooting, investigators eventually trace a path to a troubled mind.
Last week's shootings at a Connecticut elementary school has sparked a national dialogue about how the United States treats its mentally ill citizens.
Despite all the talk about improving public education -- the movement toward teaching "mental health first aid" to help people recognize when someone might be in crisis mode -- the federal government and many state governments continue to cut funding for mental health treatment at all levels.
Many advocates of mentally ill adults and parents of mentally ill children complain that treatment too often involves a rapid decision to medicate, but little else.
They say intensive inpatient treatment is nearly impossible to get. Providers agree that, without a court order or at least a criminal record indicating serious mental illness, most patients aren't likely to be hospitalized for more than the standard emergency 72-hour observation period.
Only a very small percentage of people who have mental illnesses are violent, and many are capable of living independently and happily with the right treatment regimen and careful follow-up.
But too many people go without any care at all, for a variety of reasons. Cost and lack of insurance are among them.
So is the lingering stigma surrounding mental illness. The stigma that prevents many from seeking care is the same one that allows society to look away, whether in apathy or in fear.
But nearly everyone agrees that it's time to bring mental illness -- and the systems in place to treat it -- into the public dialogue about stricter gun laws and other ways to curb an ever-more-violent society.
(c)2012 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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