Mental health needs focus
Taylor Daily Press
Sunday, January 6, 2013 1:00 am
“With the recent events we’ve seen with the gun violence, there are a lot of people saying what I have been saying for years, which is we have to address the mental health side of this. In Texas, do you know where we rank? Last.” – Larry Gonzales
In the middle of a lengthy discussion of the mountain of issues facing the Texas Legislature when it convenes this week in Austin, State Rep. Larry Gonzales mentioned the need for improved mental health services in Texas.
Following the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. the fire was stoked on gun control debates as well as mental health services. Some, like the National Rifle Association, argue that the issue is much more about mental health than gun violence, yet statistics show that most violent crimes are not committed by those with mental health problems.
Still, it is important to realize that the combination of mental health issues and guns can create magnified consequences when violence erupts.
Where we have failed as a nation and a state is in providing quality care for mental health issues. In the United States we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, resilient and we don’t react well to what we see as weakness, especially when it comes to coping with life. We are the land of opportunity and self-help, but it is often not so easy.
We donate and spend billions on cancer research and a host of other medical issues, but mental health never gets so much attention. We like to say people need to just change their outlook or think differently – “Do something to change things.” Clearly it is not so simple, and we can’t begin to understand what it is like to deal with mental health problems without experiencing them.
So yes, we can do some things that might help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but one of Gonzales’ observations is perhaps even more important – we rank last.
We do not do enough, spend enough, put enough emphasis on mental health issues in the United States, which means that our status in Texas as ranking so low nationally only means we perform miserably in that role.
We can cut spending all over the place, but just as with education, mental health service cuts only make an already stretched program more porous and prone to failure. These are not areas where it is safe and productive to try and do more with less.
If it takes tragedies like the one in Connecticut to get our legislature to focus on mental health issues and funding then so be it. Gonzales and others in the legislature who see the importance of providing and funding quality mental healthcare programs should take full advantage of the moment and push for substantial change.