Monday, January 7, 2013

Bone to Pick: Mass Shootings: Politicians Are Focused on Wrong Solution

The recent mass shootings are a devastating tragedy to everyone in this country and solutions need to be found. It will probably take more than one action on the part of government and communities to resolve this issue, but the focus seems to be on gun control. I believe mental illness and the state of the economy is the real issues that should be addressed.

Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada.1 And that’s not all. More than 450 million people across the globe suffer from mental illnesses. Roughly 50 percent in developed countries don’t receive the care they need, and in developing countries that figure reaches almost 90 percent. 2

Raising two special needs children, I have been involved in the state funded programs available to individuals with disabilities as well as the public school system. I’ve found these programs severely lacking. One of the reasons is due to deep cuts to state spending on services for children and adults living with serious mental illness. Between 2009 and 2012, more than $1.6 billion was cut from state funds for mental health services. States like California cut $764.8 million during this period, New York, $204.9 million and Illinois, $187 million. State mental health budget cuts of this size inevitably result in loss of services for the most vulnerable residents living with serious mental illnesses. 3

My son who was denied services multiple times by the Utah Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD) eventually ended up as a teen in an inpatient program at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) for injuring me and my other son and threatening to harm himself. Once released, he returned to public school and injured three students. The school policy was to send him to juvenile detention. Official state employees commented that this was no place for my son. When asked what I should do, I was told “your child is the type of child who falls through the cracks”.

When he entered high school, there was no program in the public school system for him or anyone with his type of disabilities. I have reached out for help several many times to organizations only to be told my child needs to qualify for DSPD services. When he turned eighteen, he was re-evaluated and placed on the waiting list for services. This list contains over two thousand waiting children in Utah and the average wait time is approximately six years, according to one DSPD representative.

In the recent shooting at Sandy Hollow Elementary in Connecticut, CBS Sunday Morning News program reported this comment by Marcia Lanza, Adam Lanza's aunt: "She [Adam’s mother] eventually ended up home schooling him, because she battled with the school district, in what capacity I'm not 100 percent certain. If it was behavioral, if it was learning disabilities, I don't know. But he was a very bright boy. He was very smart." 4

Again, state mental health budget cuts of this size inevitably result in loss of services for the most vulnerable residents living with serious mental illnesses. As budget cuts have mounted, both inpatient and community services for children and adults living with serious mental illness have been downsized or eliminated. In some states, entire hospitals have been closed; in others, community mental health programs have been eliminated. 5

According to World Health Organization by 2030, depression will be the second highest cause of disease burden in middle-income countries and the third highest in low-income countries. In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those ages 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group. 6 More than 90% of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder. 7

The state of the economy affects everyone on some level. Young people coming out of college with degrees are unable to get jobs. People who are of an age to retire are forced to continue to work because they can’t afford insurance. This country is depressed in more ways than one. Senseless crimes will continue to escalate until our country’s economy is back on track and people have a sense of hope and prosperity again; until our leaders wake-up and address the real issues behind these heinous acts instead of trying to cover it with a band-aid fix.

Cindy A. Christiansen
Fiction author and mother of two special needs children

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