In Wake of Sandy Hook, It's Time to Focus on Mental Health Funding

Gun control is only one piece of the puzzle. But as legislators work to avert the "fiscal cliff," funding for mental health services is once again in jeopardy.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, like any tragedy, there are a myriad of questions. How could this happen? What was the perpetrator thinking? What was wrong with him? Could this happen in my community? If children are not safe in school, where are they safe?

There are no concrete answers to ease the pain and confusion of such a horrific event. But in the sea of uncertainty, there is one absolute – if we do not change the way the public looks at the mental health industry and insist on adequate funding for necessary treatment, we will be forced to relive similar acts of violence.

It’s too early to say exactly what was wrong with Adam Lanza. Perhaps we will never have an exact diagnosis. But it is evident this was a young man who needed intervention that sadly he did not get. Many people point to gun control as the answer. If perpetrators don’t have access to weapons, innocent lives will be spared. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. People will always find a way to get guns if they are determined enough. Where we can help is by shoring up awareness and funding for mental health treatment.

KidsPeace, a national nonprofit based in the Lehigh Valley, is an expert on mental illness. For 130 years, our specialty has been treating children and adolescents with a wide range of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. Our services have expanded with the growing needs of the population we serve. We now operate in 10 states and the District of Columbia. We offer residential treatment, therapeutic foster care, community-based programs and even a psychiatric hospital because of the acuity of illness in some of the kids entrusted to our care. While most people struggling with mental illness are not violent, treatment is still imperative to give them a chance of becoming productive members of society. Our wide array of services and resources, such as TeenCentral.Net, ParentCentral.Net and our Critical Incident Response Team, put our organization in a position to lend a healing hand and raise awareness of mental health concerns.

But for all of these efforts to reach out to those in dire need of our services, we are under incredible pressure to do more with less. In five years, due to diminishing reimbursement and declining placements to right-size county, state and federal coffers, KidsPeace has gone from being a $170 million organization to a $118 million one. Our staff has been slashed from 2,500 employees to about 1,800, and the remaining associates have endured pay freezes and benefit cuts. At a time when more children are in need, we are able to deliver fewer services. As legislators grapple with cost-saving measures in an attempt to avert the “fiscal cliff,” our industry is at risk of being pushed aside. We understand money needs to be saved, but at what cost? For all our hard work, we still touch fewer people than we once did, and if mental health funding is cut again, more young people in need will be overlooked.

We are not alone in this struggle. KidsPeace is merely a microcosm of the pressured mental health industry. It is time for all of society to take a stand, stop being afraid to discuss mental illness and fight for the necessary funding and support to continue to help those in desperate need. We must ensure young people who are at risk are referred to appropriate programs for treatment. We need to continue to bolster programs that combat bullying to prevent someone from feeling so isolated that he could lash out in the community. We need to protect our children from the fallout of future acts of aggression. It is imperative to open the lines of communication now so those who represent us in Washington realize what is at stake if funding continues to be reduced. If we do not invest in mental health today, the costs to our society down the line will be staggering.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

P. Lehnen December 30, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Amen! If one were to chart the closing of the mental hospitals and the increase in these types of violent acts our nation has endured, I feel certain that they would show a direct correlation ( and probable cause) to this problem. Nobody wants to pay for the mentally ill to be hospitalized and/or receive care that is needed. The states have closed their hospitals due to funding over the last 15 to 20 years and the insurance companies severely limit coverage. Then parents and family are left to deal with a situation that no one in that position is qualified to deal with. On top of that they are scared themselves and no one can help them due to the laws written to "protect" the mentally ill. What about the rest of us. I worked at a publicly funded mental health facility for 15 years and could not believe it when it was shut down. But when the governors wife came to visit, she was only shown the units and parts of the school that held those who were ready for discharge, none of the dangerous or really ill patients. So, naturally, she went back to hubby and told him how unnecessary it was to hospitalize all those patients. And those who believe this was a good thing will tell you there are no former mental patients on the streets in Philadelphia too! We need to take a serious look at this problem, it will not go away because it is inconvenient and uncomfortable for all of us, including politicians, to look at it and pay for it.
Brian Patton December 30, 2012 at 10:59 AM
60 years ago,we had large state run institutions that housed thousands of mentally ill patients.They were medicated,housed,and exposed to rehab options.Most had a pass to spend their day working on the grounds or in the local economy.Units were modeled to deal with specific diagnoses..i.e. Alcohol,Adolescent,Acute ect.These grounds were groomed by patients and looked like Estates.The homeless were few and the truly troubled were supervised by kind,career employees...24/7...Nursing Schools were housed on these campuses and produced the lion's share of LPN's and RN's of the time....Then came a concept...de-centralize---discharge to community based aftercare,dramatically reduce funding and staffing and no longer house these persons...Lost,these persons opted to live out,not medicate and eventually never blend into productive society.Institutions closed,employees released and abilities to observe,treat and protect these persons was lost..A financial shift from state to local funding that went awry .Now we see camps under river bridges,cardboard box cities, and only voluntary commitment for these behavioral problems.Good people send money to agencies for shelter,food and clothing for these persons...The central Government is no longer supervising and is no longer responsible...Hence,persons have the right to fall thru the cracks...and they do..Mostly young,strong ,physically healthy....with history of behavior problems that drift away from family and friends...few work.Lost!
Rosemary B January 03, 2013 at 02:43 PM
THIS is where the focus should be on to do the most good. Not on the gun bans. Guns do not kill people on there own!
Hugh Gallagher March 17, 2013 at 12:43 PM
There is a new incident reported where an ex-Marine with a conceal permit interrupted a man beating a woman. That should spark some thought and comment.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »