In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, we’ve criticized Arizona for cutting back on its mental health services in the midst of the economic recession, but this morning on Washington Journal Michael Fitzpatrick — executive director of the National Alliance On Mental Illness — said the shooting may have been prevented if Jared Lee Loughner’s, behavior had been reported to the proper authorities:
FITZPATRICK: Arizona has one of the broadest civil commitment laws in this country. It’s actually very easy to get someone evaluated in Arizona. The standard for getting someone before a mental health professional is actually broader and actually simpler. What’s interesting is that in a number of points along the way Mr. Loughner could have been evaluated by a mobile team, they have 24-hour crisis programs, in Arizona. The college police could have called in a mobile crisis team to evaluate Mr. Loughtner, at some point the University could have taken that responsibility.
Fitzpatrick pointed out that Loughner had been involved with the campus police five times before the shooting and numerous instructors “knew he was having significantly mental health problems.” “What we know is that in any given day half the people in this country who have mental health problems, receive no treatment,” he added, stressing that the general public doesn’t understand mental illness. “And much of that has to do with the pervasive stigma around mental illness and really the lack of knowledge.”
Over at Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer laments that Congress will likely ignore this reality. “Instead, members of Congress are calling for laws that would ban bringing guns near members of Congress or regulating talk radio. ” “Yet of all the possible solutions to such mass violence, real mental health reform holds the most promise for saving lives by ensuring that people with brain diseases get the care they need before they seek out the always easily accessible American firearm,” she writes.
Interestingly, even members of Congress who support mental health issues are not optimistic that the tragedy will change how lawmakers think about the issue. As Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pointed out on Monday, “It’s only going to get worse because of state budget cuts. That’s a pretty easy place for people to go after, let’s cut some of the mental health outreach. Might mean some more homelessness but most people that dress like this in politics don’t see them, don’t talk to them, don’t know them.”
The federal government has made some headway on the issue in 2008, when it passed the federal mental health parity law and voted to expand it to the uninsured through the Affordable Care Act. Fitzpatrick called the parity legislation a “game changer,” adding “We thing it will make a tremendous impact on the lives of people in this country.”