Mental health key to avoiding another Newtown
The Grinch has stolen Christmas this year. I have lost all enthusiasm for lighting the tree, decorating, or wrapping gifts as in years past. My heart is broken from the Dec. 14 event in Newtown, Conn. I remember exactly my late-afternoon location when first hearing news of this catastrophe, adding to my collection of memories for history-making, mostly tragic occurrences.
Part of me writes this entry with incredible sadness while another aspect of my psyche is enraged. Since receiving my Master’s in Community Counseling from Georgia State University in 1990, I have watched our country’s mental health services collapse. The majority of in-patient facilities are gone. Several in Atlanta where I received training are now subdivisions, with no remaining evidence of what once stood. They are plowed-under and forgotten, paralleling our society’s attitude toward mental health issues.
Presently there are equally as few in-patient mental health facilities serving central Ohio. Now named Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare, the former Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital once accounted for more than 2,000 in-patient mental health beds in our geographic area. That number has been reduced to just 176 beds, with minimal availability, sometimes forcing patients to be transported long distances for treatment, according to Steve Hedge, Executive Director of the Delaware and Morrow Mental Health Recovery Services Board, of which I am a member. Only 1,077 state-funded beds remain at five facilities dedicated to mental health in-patient care within Ohio, where once there were 3,524 beds at 17 centers. No state-funded facility remains open for adolescent mental health. Previously three hospitals served the psychiatric needs of Ohio’s children.
One of every four adults is presently encountering a mental health-based issue such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, addiction issues or schizophrenia. Sadly, 1-in-10 children also struggle with a behavioral diagnosis, per statistics provided by the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI.) Fewer than half of these individuals will receive professional treatment. A key component of this problem is that families of the mentally ill have fewer places to seek treatment for their loved ones and those remaining facilities lack availability, especially when more than 4,000 beds at state-funded Ohio psychiatric centers are now gone.
An estimated 1.6 billion dollars of funding for mental health services (per NAMI statistics), have disappeared within the United States since 2009, yet psychological issues are becoming more common for Americans. The usage of anti-depressants, anxiety, and sleeping medications has reached record levels, but rarely is a mental health expert such as a psychiatrist or psychologist prescribing or recommending these powerful pharmaceuticals. Instead, most prescriptions are written by an internist or family practice physician, a medical professional with limited time for each patient needing a psychological assessment or the scope of training to be diagnosing both physical AND mental maladies.
There are reports that the gunman was undiagnosed with possible Asperger’s, a less severe type of autism. The killer’s divorced mother supposedly warned his previous babysitters, “not to leave him alone.” According to news reports, the mother rarely if ever confided to friends of his behavioral challenges. The outward appearance of her upscale well-manicured Connecticut home is deceiving for what potentially was occurring inside. Once again in this scenario, silence was her coping mechanism versus calling from Newtown rooftops that she desperately needed help. Somehow this mother inexplicably rationalized that taking her son to a firing range for target practice would teach “responsibility.” Combining an arsenal of guns with a mentally ill family member is beyond comprehension and fuels my above-mentioned rage. I am clueless as to how she consciously allowed this lethal mixture of keeping an assault rifle and several other weapons in her home, while experiencing an escalation in his problematic temperament.
Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theatre massacre earlier this year and the Newtown deaths, has requested $18.5 million from the state legislature to improve mental health services for his state’s citizens. The initiative introduced at a Dec. 18 press conference, is called “Strengthening Colorado’s Mental Health System: A Plan to Safeguard All Coloradans.” His recommendations include opening 24-hour walk-in mental health centers, expanding both emergency room capabilities and community mental health centers for in-patient care, and first-responder capabilities for mental health crises in that state. I applaud Gov. Hickenlooper. Twenty four-hour walk-in mental health facilities are needed throughout cities and at other strategically placed locations to serve rural areas. Gov. Kasich should take notice. Ohio is desperately lacking in these same services. It was not so long ago when small-town Chardon became nationally known for a student killing classmates. How many more towns will be bestowed this moniker?
Come on, America. Wake up. Mental illness is not going away. It is standing at our perfectly decorated front doors, yet we continue to ignore the signals which lead to the Dec. 14 massacre and more young lives lost too soon. Our nation’s mental health crisis is undeniable. As Americans, our “head in the sand” attitude can only lead to an increased number of traumatized cities added to this list where mental illness and gun usage have created monumental tragedies.
And finally, I refuse to address by name the Newtown gunman who caused this carnage. Even though I write for a newspaper, my opinion is that we should stop publicizing these mass-killers, thus giving them fame when they deserve only ostracism. Potentially the desire to “go out in a blaze of glory” with all of a nation knowing who they were after such a rampage, would be lessened if these murderers remained anonymous and only their innocent victims received recognition.
Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Saturdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, visit delgazette.com/life-questions-with-local-answers or send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015.