We all recoiled in horror at the recent events in Newtown, Conn. where a gunman shot and killed 20 elementary school students and seven adults before turning the gun on himself. Sadly, the name Newtown will join Columbine and Aurora, Red Bank and Virginia Tech among the list of places where gunmen shot and killed a great many people.
The gun control lobby has already started pressing for tighter, more restrictive gun laws.
Analysts have started to probe what, if any mental health issues the shooter suffered from. News reports indicate he had a form of autism – not a mental illness.
The gun lobby will decry the violence, but demand that constitutional freedoms not be infringed upon. Naysayers will call the mental health argument a crutch fallen on too many times.
We argue that greater vigilance in both areas is needed.
But we would particularly like to point out the ever-growing need for better care for the mentally ill.
The fact of the matter is that, in some small number of cases, people with mental illness can be irrationally violent. Innocent people can be hurt.
Closer to home, a Corinth Holders man, who family members say suffered from mental illness, was shot and killed by deputies after he charged them with a machete.
Yet, in North Carolina, we replace large mental health facilities like Dorothea Dix with small facilities like Central Hospital in Butner.
Then we turn Dix into a park.
We eliminate funding for group homes that provide a therapeutic home-like setting for people with mental health needs. At the last minute, Gov. Perdue throws $1 million at the problem as a stop-gap measure.
Meanwhile, more and more people with mental illnesses slip through the cracks.
And when the next shooting takes place – and rest assured, it will – we will all sit back and cluck about what a shame it was someone didn’t help that person before it reached that point.
The need for better mental health care is about as obvious as the nose on our face. But those with mental health concerns have no voice in the halls of power. No politician actively courts the mentally ill population. They have become our society’s castaways.