• Pass the Excellence in Mental Health Act — Identification, Treatment Can Prevent Senseless Tragedy by Tom Watkins

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    Excell_m_h_actBefore there is another call to 911-to report yet one more shooting and killing we need to pause and ask what more can we do as a society to prevent such tragedies.

    The most recent killing took place on a mall in Columbia, MD. A man carrying a shotgun opened fire, killing two employees and then himself.

    This violent acting out is becoming all too familiar a tragedy — homicidal and suicidal lunacy raining down fear and terror on us. If these attacks came from an external source the country would coalesce around a plan of action. We are disintegrating from within and are paralyzed by inaction.

    There is no need to recite the series of tragic shootings by mentally unstable persons in the recent past. The pain is seared into the public’s consciousness.

    While the overwhelming number of people with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of a crime, multiple recent tragic incidents underscore the horrible consequences of what can happen when people with a serious mental illness are not properly diagnosed and treated. With proper treatment and support many people with serious mental illnesses can recover and prosper.

    Michigan recently released a plan (http://www.michigan.gov/mobi/mentalhealth/0,,,00.html) to improve mental health services throughout the state, calling for better coordination of care among providers and better integration of mental health services into general health care.  Weaved throughout the recommendations is the expectation for enhanced data gathering  and reporting in services geared for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance use disorders and active campaigns to actively fight the “stigma” of mental illness.

    Clearly we need to break down the shame and stigma that in far too many instances prevent individuals and families from seeking needed mental health treatment.

    We need to assure that people in crisis know what number to call before a panic call is made after tragedy strikes.
    Clip these numbers, load them into your smart phone and post them on your fridge to have handy in a time of need:

    In Detroit and Wayne County the 24/7 crisis hotline is:  800-241-4949
    In Oakland  crisis hotline is:  800-231-1127
    Macomb crisis hotline is:  800-273-8255
    Washtenaw  crisis hotline is:  800- 440-7548
    Livingston crisis hotline is:  800-615-1245

    The United Way services Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, and Washtenaw counties with their 2-1-1 information and referral service.  2-1-1 provides free and confidential information services.

    Call 2-1-1 for help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and more.

    Are there others?

    Americans are fed up with senseless gun violence. Congress has grown far too comfortable protecting the status quo. The status quo is killing our children and is rotting the moral fabric of this country from the inside out. It is time we take action.

    Thoughtful Americans must organize and advocate for a balanced approach to gun violence in America including, at a minimum:

    •Make quality mental health services for people with serious mental illness available and affordable.

    •Address the culture of violence perpetuated by the video and entertainment industry. These “entertainment” games are corrosive to a healthy and stable society.

    •Establish sensible gun controls and universal background checks that allow for legitimate gun ownership for sport, self-protection or collection purposes, while banning assault weapons with ammunition clips capable of shooting dozens of high-powered bullets in seconds.

    The time is now for America’s sensible center to rise up with the indignation, pain and sorrow we felt when hearing about the twenty, 6-  and 7-year-old children being slaughtered in the sanctity of their school, in Newtown, which has since become; the symbolic “statue of liberty” of our country.

    The Time To Act Is Now

    While over 2/3rds of Americans support some form of sensible gun controls and universal background checks, the Washington gun lobby have prevented action.

    Yet, there is bi-partisan agreement on actions needed to strengthen mental health services. Yet to date Congress has not acted.

    U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow has once again called for value added mental health legislation, The Excellence in Mental Health Act.  Three US House members, David Camp, Sandy Levin and Fred Upton hold the key to moving this legislation forward along with Congressman Waxman from California.  It would be wonderful if our Congressional delegation would take the lead in moving this sensible national legislation from talk to law.

    After each senseless shooting our collective refrain is: “We must do something.” Passing Senator Stabenow’s Excellence in Mental Health Act would be a good start.

    We need a 911 call to Representative’s Camp, Levin and Upton and other legislators asking for them to act.

    Tom Watkins is the President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (www.dwmha.com) and was deputy and director of Michigan’s state mental health department from 1983-90. 

    Reach him at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com .  Follow him on twitter #tdwatkins88

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