Students who drove March for Our Lives must decide what's next

Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez speaks to the crowd during March for Our Lives to demand stricter gun control laws on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS) ORG XMIT: 1226907

In the wake of mass shootings and following horrendous crimes blamed on mentally unstable perpetrators, there is always a loud public cry to improve availability and effectiveness of services for mental illness. The idea usually receives widespread vocal political support, in part because it doesn't involve a need to discuss — or do — anything about gun control.

But there is no need to worry about studies or evaluations or major funding searches, because if there is anything that is less likely to receive political support than gun control, it's mental health care.

For decades, people from family and friends of the mentally ill to national policymakers have struggled to find effective ways of identifying persons in need of psychiatric and therapeutic assistance, and to provide services to meet those needs. In 1963, the Community Mental Health Act led a movement to take the mentally ill out of long-term inpatient residency and back into communities where they could live at home and work while also receiving mental health services. It was a well-intentioned gesture, but the funding to build and maintain community centers that could provide the level of care required by the seriously mentally ill never arrived.

There have been multiple attempts at national legislation correcting the problems attending the lack of adequate mental health resources, but most have been quashed before they ever reach consideration by the full Senate and House of Representatives. Individual states have moved to improve services but those efforts have been inadequate to meet the needs of the numbers of persons needing assistance.

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After the shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a number of persons reported contacting law enforcement, including the FBI, to report that alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had demonstrated disturbing behavior before he carried out the massacre. It says something about the sad state of mental health care that there was no intervention, no services employed to intervene and get Cruz help before he could act on his disordered thoughts and behavior.

Improvement of mental health services will not just benefit the seriously mentally ill deemed a threat to themselves and others. It will help those with mental illness who are not a danger to anyone; persons who can be diagnosed and treated before they are unable to function in society; those whose psychological needs can be addressed on an ongoing basis to allow them to carry on successful relationships without ever requiring intensive psychiatric care.

Investing in adequate mental health services is a smart idea for the good of our whole society. Only loud voices demanding change and votes bringing in dedicated politicians who enact serious legislation will ever make mental health care improvement a reality.

Pam Hartman

licensed professional counselor

Denham Springs