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The entire country is deeply saddened by the shootings in Tucson

on Wed, 01/12/2011 - 10:32

The entire country is deeply saddened by the shootings in Tucson. It’s difficult to make sense out of this kind of violence and it shakes us to our very foundations when the target is an elected official and innocent bystanders, including a well respected judge and a nine year old girl. In the face of this kind of tragedy, it is important to maintain perspective. 

If the shooter is found to be mentally ill, it is essential to bear in mind a few facts about mental illness. Mental illnesses are biological disorders of the brain and treatment is effective for most people. Persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators and more likely to hurt themselves than others. When mental illnesses go untreated, however, the risk for violence increases. The prevalence of Schizophrenia is 1% world-wide and only a fraction (1%) will engage in violent behavior.  Categorizing all persons with mental illness as violent is unjust and doing so fosters prejudice and stigma which serve as barriers to treatment and inclusion. 

Our country has moved away from the belief that persons with mental illness must be locked away in mental hospitals but the shifting of funds to community based care has been slow to follow. Evidenced based practices like supported housing, case management, rehabilitation, peer support, and assisted outpatient treatment are essential and cost effective components of an effective system of care. Without these services many fall through the cracks and enter the revolving door of hospitalizations, incarcerations, homelessness, and the pain of untreated illness. In the aftermath of this tragedy, we must take a reasoned look at our mental health system, the laws which govern access to care, the inequities in funding mental health services, and our attitudes towards people with serious brain disorders.

Katharine R. Dobbins
Executive Director