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Policy Perspectives on Virginia Tech tragedy

NAMI’s Five Points

  1. We must invest adequate resources in mental health services that work.   In 2006, in a landmark report, NAMI gave the nation’s mental health system a D.   In recent years, states, including Virginia, have systematically reduced funding of mental health services.  As a result, we have neither adequate hospital beds or community services in most parts of the country.  Untreated mental illness is America’s # 1 public health crisis,  but it is a hidden crisis.   Treatment works – we know what to do, but we simply have not invested adequately in this treatment.  
  2. The system must be changed to more effectively respond to the needs of individuals before crises occur.  Today, it is virtually impossible to get mental health services in many communities unless you have been arrested or been determined as dangerous.   People who are experiencing symptoms that have not yet reached crisis proportions are turned away.  Access to vital treatment and services such as psychiatric medications, intensive case management, and rehabilitative services have proven effectiveness in alleviating symptoms and fostering recovery.  We need to make these services available to people when they need them.
  3. Colleges and universities must include screening, assessment and treatment of serious mental illness within health services available to students.  The age of onset for severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression is frequently late teens and early twenties.  This is precisely when young people are attending colleges.  
  4. Peer leadership and support networks need to be an essential part of the system. People who live with mental illnesses must have opportunities for peer education in managing conditions

  5. States with overly restrictive laws such as Virginia should amend laws to permit court-ordered treatment on an inpatient or outpatient basis without requiring proof of imminent dangerousness.  Information and evidence such as past history and input from families and others close to the individual should be incorporated into determinations of whether individuals meet the legal criteria for court ordered treatment.  In many states, the law frequently function as impediments to treatment when people may need it the most—but are too ill to recognize the. Changes to these laws must occur carefully, with input from all relevant stakeholders and with protections to guard against civil rights abuses. 

For further discussion, NAMI also offers the following articles published in the news media that relate to some of the mental health policy issues raised by the tragedy. They do not necessarily reflect NAMI policy.

Concern grows that killings stigmatize mental illnesses
Nevada Appeal, NV, 4/20/07

State of mind is difficult to address, experts say
Kentucky Live, KY, 4/19/07

Protecting student rights and students a balancing act
USA Today, 4/18/07

Lost on Campus
Eugene Robinson; Washington Post 4/20/07

Premediated and Preventable
David Chartrand; Washington Post 4/20/07

When the Law Creates Barriers to Care
Marc Fisher; Washington Post 4/20/07

Gun Control: Bill to Strengthen Background Checks
Washington Post 4/20/07

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