Only a few days ago our nation experienced another national tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown,CT. Although this is not the first major tragedy of its type to shake the nation, the shooting at Sandy Hook has become a national event to mourn. In addition to mourning, however, this incident has sparked nation-wide discussions on some very important, though divisive topics; gun control and treatment for mental health conditions.
Though many of the details from the Sandy Hook shooting are still being uncovered, the issues brought to light from this terrible event are extremely important for us to discuss as a nation, especially mental health treatment. In the case of Sandy Hook, many people are already speculating about the mental health status of the shooter. Was Adam Lanza Autistic? Did he have oppositional defiant disorder? A different personality disorder? While Adam Lanza’s mental status doesn’t justify the horrific shooting, it can certainly serve as a means to talk about mental health treatment in this country.
Sandy Hook Shooting
The United States has a long history of mental health treatment, starting at least as early Dorothea Dix and her campaign to lobby for better living conditions for the mentally ill. Throughout the decades theU.S. has continued to consider care for the mentally ill a priority, though at times that priority has taken a back seat to other issues. Additionally, during and after the 1950s, theUnited States undertook a policy known as “deinstitutionalization” leading to fewer hospitalized mental health patients. This policy has shifted resources away from federal mental health institutions to state and private facilities, such as Sovereign Health’s program. This policy has undoubtedly lead to the spread of many private mental health organizations across the country, however it may have also lead to an unforeseen lack of mental health resources across the country.
According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2008 only a bit more than half (58.7 percent) of those with a severe mental illness were able to access treatment. Young people were especially at risk, with only 40 percent of those who needed services able to access them. Furthermore the study found that the most common type of treatment was medication (whether taken alone or in conjunction with other forms of therapy), and only 7.5 percent of the severely mentally ill were involved in inpatient treatment. While there is no perfect solution there are treatment options out there for bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and depression. Though it is unreasonable to hope for “access for all” these numbers clearly show that our mental health system has to change.
No one should try to claim that the shooting at Sandy Hook could have been prevented by a more accessible and responsive mental health treatment system in the U.S. There is no way for us to predict what could or couldn’t have occurred if things have been different. However, regardless of the particulars of this case, mental health treatment in the U.S. needs to reach more people, in ways that not only give them a temporary solution, but lasting skills for life. We sincerely hope that we, as a nation, can learn from the tragedy at Sandy Hook and have a frank and open discussion about what we need to change in the field of mental health.
Blog Post By:Jared Friedman