To the editor:
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was truly a horrific tragedy. Since then, the media has been shouting about stricter gun laws and bans on certain weapons. However, I feel this is only a Band-Aid to the problem.
Guns did not kill these people. The young man pulling the trigger did. If someone wants to use a gun for something illegal or to go on a killing spree, one will find a way to obtain that gun. The bigger issue is getting the mental health services to the people behind these massacres.
I am not excusing this young man's behavior due to his mental illness. However, if he would have received the care he needed, would this even have occurred? We still have a stigma against those receiving mental health services. We think nothing of someone being treated for cancer and we even do huge pledge drives to generate money for cures. However, how freely can someone ask for support from the community at large if a loved one is struggling with schizophrenia or some other mental health problem? Pledge drives for cancer cures are relevant because so many people are dying as a result of this terrible disease. However, how many suicides occur every year as a result of untreated depression and bipolar disorder?
Even in the medical field, physical health is given more of a priority than mental health. When seeing a typical physician for a standard illness, the nurse takes all the particulars and then the doctor or physician's assistant comes in and routinely spends a couple minutes with you, they may write a prescription or order blood work, and send you on your way, charging your insurance company between $65 and $90 for that few minutes of service. Then they move on to the next patient and possibly see 15 or more in an hour.
As a mental health provider I see my patients for 50 minutes and insurances pay me between $40 and $75 for that entire time. So we professionals who hold master's or doctorate degrees struggle to pay our staff and earn any income at all. We carry malpractice insurance as well and also are required to continue our education to maintain our licenses. I routinely work 50 or more hours a week to generate a personal income under $30,000 per year. How many doctors make less than $30,000 per year? There is a different priority.
When a young person reaches the age of 18, unless a parent can prove this person is harmful to him or herself or others, we cannot force them to receive treatment. Some inpatient facilities will not even accept a patient unless they have done physical harm to someone else. This is a travesty.
I do not feel we are going to make any inroads regarding violence unless we can give mental health problems the priority they deserve and allow us to serve them in the capacity that is needed.
Terry DeHamer, LISW, LICDC