As people who have direct, lived experience with mental illness and addiction, as family members caring for our loved ones with these illnesses, as counselors and health care workers, and as leaders of behavioral health programs, we all call on you, the leaders of our Nation, to begin with us a road to recovery from the Newtown Tragedy.
We grieve for the Innocents murdered in Newtown. These are our children, our neighbors, our families, our friends. There can be no greater tragedy in a society than losing its young, its own future, so needlessly and so senselessly. Such actions strike at the very heart of who we are and who we hope to become.
So we must grieve. We grieve for the families who lost their children, for the families of their teachers who were killed, for the entire Newtown community, and for America itself. Yet, we owe them all so much, much more than just our tears. They also deserve our action to identify and implement solutions.
To begin our recovery, we recommend that you provide Federal support and assistance to:
>Immediately implement school, family, and community-based programs to promote mental health, to prevent mental illness and substance abuse, and to provide early interventions for those exhibiting these conditions. Prevention and early intervention strategies can strengthen children’s and families’ mental health and resiliency, prevent or lessen the burden of illness, and help to recover from trauma. Further, teachers must be taught how to identify troubled children early and to guide them into effective supports before these children get into difficulties.
>Immediately begin teaching students at all levels to recognize the signs of mental illness and addiction, and to seek help when needed. Few young people get even a single hour of education about mental illness or addiction, its signs or its treatment. We can’t expect people to step forward or to seek help for themselves or a family member when we don’t even provide them the rudimentary tools to do so. We must begin now.
>Immediately double the capacity of mental health and substance abuse programs. Funding for community mental health and substance use treatment services has been cut dramatically. As a result, only a third of those with moderate mental illness, two-thirds of those with severe illness and less than one-tenth of persons with a substance use disorder ever receive any care. Families simply cannot get badly needed care. The Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity law must be implemented fully. We must expand peer support services. Mental health and substance abuse care must be fully integrated into good medical care.
We commend President Obama for creating a Workgroup this week, in part to examine the issue of banning assault rifles and large capacity clips. The broad availability of these weapons in the US is a public health problem of major dimensions. We seek to work with President Obama and with the Congress to address this issue directly and forthrightly.
The Newtown Tragedy is not solely an issue of public health or behavioral health, firearms or ammunition, or education or law enforcement. Instead, this Tragedy calls for all of us to work as one to create lasting solutions.
Yes, we must grieve for the Innocents, just as we grieved recently for those lost in Tucson, Aurora, and Portland. But, this time, our grieving must have a direction and purpose to galvanize action. As people who know first-hand the tragedies of mental illness and addiction, and the triumphs that are possible, we all call on you to take immediate action.
Our Nation expects nothing less of all of us.