Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Opinion: It’s time to push insurance companies to cover mental health
Gun control is only one component.
As the parents and community members of Newtown, Connecticut began to bury their dead following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took place on Friday, I continued to ask the questions that I'm guessing nearly everyone in this country is also asking - "Why"?
As my son Colin and I were watching the faces of the innocent victims of the shooting being flashed on the television screen, Colin emphatically said, "Stop this madness!"
He's right. This madness has got to stop. I don't think I'm alone in feeling this incredible sadness that has gripped me for days now. Why?
According to a survey by Mother Jones, there have been 62 cases of mass shootings within the last 30 years. Seven of those shootings occurred this year. Is this the new normal -- a world where we worry about our children's safety as they head off to school, to the movie theater, or to the coffee shop? A world where our children grow up with an ever-present threat of danger or death? A world where we don't have the answers to why these kinds of horrific events happen?
The 2004 McKinney North High School football players (and their families) who dealt with the murders of Matt Self and Austin York can most likely attest that the families and children of Sandy Hook Elementary will be dealing with the trauma from this tragedy for years. They will deal with survivor's guilt. They will deal with a deep, all-consuming sense of loss. The lives parents, and families, of those who died will be forever changed.
In 2004, Congress allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire. But in the wake of the horrific shootings on Friday, some leaders are urging congress to consider a new ban on automatic weapons and more debate around gun control has taken hold.
MSNBC host and former conservative Congressman Joe Scarborough (R), said during a monologue on Monday that he has had a change of heart. Scarborough said that the shootings at Sandy Hook "changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also said in a public statement addressing gun violence on Monday that he "demands a plan. The time for talk is over.”
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a pro-gun rights senator, called for more discussion on gun control, but said that it is time to move beyond dialogue, saying, "We need action."
I'm not a psychiatrist, nor am I even a psychologist, but it's pretty clear to me that we are living in a world filled with hurting people. Gun control, especially the ban on assault weapons, appears to be a solution. But perhaps the shootings at Sandy Hook are the convergence of a a perfect storm -- semi-automatic weapons too readily available and mental health issues that went untreated.
We may never know what, if any, kinds of mental health problems possessed shooter Adam Lanza. But clearly, rage was part of the equation on Friday as Lanza allegedly shot his mother in the face before beginning his rampage at Sandy Hook. News of Lanza's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, which is a milder form of Autism, has spread like wildfire, but experts say that Asperger's is not linked to violence.
Regardless, it is time to look at the current state of mental health in our nation. Although we no longer put all mental health patients in a "mental institution," there is still, in 2012, often a sense of shame that surrounds mental illness.
Liza Long, in her story, I Am Adam Lanza's Mother, relays her own harrowing, chaotic story of life with her son who struggles with mental illness. She says that the United States is using the prison system to deal with individuals with mental illness. "According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise — in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population."
The Voice honors Sandy Hook victims
It's time we step up to the plate and address mental health in our country. It's time to talk openly about depression, personality disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and PTSD, so that families aren't forced to suffer in silence and in shame. Individuals who are struggling with mental illness and their families need the understanding and support of their neighbors and friends -- the support of the schools.
It's time to push insurance companies to cover mental health. I strongly believe that too many individuals do not get the therapy they need because they can't afford it because their insurance won't cover mental health problems. Budget cuts continue to plague social services which provide mental health care. Preventative treatment works in other areas of healthcare, why not mental health? The horror.
In 2008, Texas became last in the nation in the amount of money spent on mental health services. An article in The Huffington Post claims that "in the past three years, states strapped for cash have cut their funding of mental health services by $4.3 billion, according to a survey by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors."
Some individuals go undiagnosed and many suffer silently for years, not knowing where to turn for help. The stigma that surrounds mental illness may make it more difficult for parents to admit there is a problem. Denial becomes the behavioral pattern and young people again do not receive treatment which could make a difference.
Teens are often reluctant to discuss their feelings with parents and and the youth services can be difficult to find. Mental health services are underfunded and understaffed. Combine this with an increase in the need for services as more teens are being diagnosed with mental health issues. According the the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 3.3 percent of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.
Enhanced education and awareness about mental health issues is needed. Parents, community service organizations, churches, schools, and legislators need to work together to ensure that care is available for those who need it. Then maybe, along with some gun control regulations, we won't be be hearing about any further mass shootings.
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