Disabling mental health conditions, developmental disabilities and violence

In the emotional wake of the tragedy a week ago in Newtown, CT, many of us are still privately mourning the loss of life and the true senseless nature of it all. However, a hope is that this will cause a nation-wide dialogue, opportunity for awareness, a watershed moment for policy changes for underserved populations of the mentally ill. I don’t need to debunk the myth that all individuals with mental health diagnosis are violent crazed homicidal individuals. I also don’t need to tell you that there is no meaningful correlation between the autism spectrum and mass killings. All of us probably know individuals with mental health diagnoses and also know even more individuals that probably suffer from mental illness but either fail or refuse to seek treatment for a myriad of reasons. We cast out the mentally ill in our society even though the mentally ill make up a healthy percentage of our population. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over a quarter of our adult population has a mental health diagnosis and of those, almost 6% are seriously debilitating. Yet, there is a social stygma attached to mental illness that prevents individuals from seeking meaningful treatment. For many mentally ill individuals, Medicaid is the only insurance available. Medicaid is, in fact, a key component to keeping many chronically and severely mentally ill individuals alive and independent in the community rather than in institutions. Private health insurance companies have not met the growing need for wider arrays of mental health services. It is common to find a private insurance company providing a few “free” counseling sessions but not constant psychotherapy and medication management for someone with severe schizophrenia or chronic depression. Usually, the answer is prescibing pills instead of intense case management. Medicaid is, as always, the safety net. With decreasing state budgets and political fall-out over health care reform, the future of Medicaid is uncertain. Medicaid will be around, but for who? How many services will be provided for this vulnerable population? If we, as a society, want to prevent senseless acts of violence, we need to also break down the stygma attached to mental illness, and provide the help and support to those affected, including caregivers. Instead of shunning the mentally ill at the onset, then mourning the loss in the end, we can reduce the risk of such travesties demanding more from our government and our private health care industry. Our clinic will continue to represent the mentally ill. We will strive to overcome the social stygmas assigned to our clients. We will rejoice in those clients’ special gifts, and we will lift them up with the support that they need through our advocacy. We will do our part. . . will you?