Shortly after the tragic massacre of children in Connecticut, I wrote the following Letter to the Editor to the Oregonian, Portland’s main newspaper:
“Tragic shootings always raise the question, “Why?”, and the response often jumps to guns. Yet guns are tangential to the problem. Those of us with a mentally ill person in our families can answer “why.” We’ve witnessed the behaviors leading to a mental health crisis. There are always signs, but many don’t interpret or take them seriously until it’s too late.
“If you have a loved one at risk of harming themselves or others, but aren’t sure if it’s serious or real, trust your gut. Look for behavior changes that are abrupt or steadily worsen over time. Listen for statements that seem out of character Pay attention to significant overreactions to events or ideas. Never be afraid to ask directly, “Are you OK?” Don’t hesitate to seek help from mental health advocacy or support groups. Whatever the cause, mental illness is treatable; there is hope, and people who can help.”
A couple of weeks later, a reporter from the Oregonian contacted me to help with a story on mental illness in children. She said she wanted this important longstanding issue brought back into the national discussion.
Perhaps we have finally reached a turning point?
Sandra Spencer, Executive Director for the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, met at the White House with Vice President Biden’s task force on gun control to ensure that the issue goes beyond just gun control. The following is an excerpt:
“We must deal with the real issue that children do have mental health challenges and parents don’t have support or access to services without fear of losing their children to public scrutiny, bullying, discrimination and even institutionalization. …These children, youth, and families need to know where to go, which treatment is best, and how to access community support.
“The isolation parents feel because of their children’s behavior, due to mental illness, keeps them from reaching out or even knowing who to trust for help. There should be national outrage at the number of young people who die each year by suicide and drug abuse, or the number of children with a mental health diagnosis that go untreated, and the lengths parents go to just trying to keep their children safe and out of trouble. This has to change in our nation before we can adequately address the need for an improved children’s mental health care system”
Your comments are strongly encouraged. What do other parents think?