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Statement of Ronald Honberg. Director of Policy & Legal Affairs of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
The Virginia Tech Panel Report released today is important for the entire nation. It exposes problems that exist not just in Virginia but throughout the country.
Last year, Virginia’s mental healthcare system received a 'D' grade in a national survey. The national average also was 'D.' With the report, Virginia now has a chance to rise to the challenge and provide national leadership that would indeed honor those students and professors who died at Virginia Tech.
Tragically, one of the report’s key findings echoes what too many reports have said before. As in many states: “Virginia’s mental health services are flawed and services for mental healthcare are inadequate. Lack of sufficient resources results in gaps in the mental healthcare system including short-term crisis stabilization and comprehensive outpatient services.”
NAMI applauds the report’s recognition of privacy concerns and its clear statement that “In reality, federal laws and their state counterparts afford ample leeway to share information in potentially dangerous situations.” NAMI supports efforts to clarify interpretations of the law and to promote necessary information-sharing that not only protects public safety, but also offers help to persons struggling with mental illnesses.
It is important that information-sharing not result in stigmatization—and that exclusion from school or a community not be seen as a substitute for treatment and support. No policy can work if it only serves to discourage people from seeking help when they need it.
It is important also to keep in mind that as noted by the U.S. Surgeon General, the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small. When violence occurs, it is an indication that something has gone terribly wrong, often within the mental healthcare system or other institutions and agencies.
That is what the report reveals.
Forty years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy observed after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that there is a violence that is slower but just as deadly and destructive as gunshots or bombs. It is the violence of institutions, indifference, inaction, and slow decay. It is the kind of violence that too long has marked the mental healthcare system in Virginia and elsewhere. Failures inside a fragmented system. Failures of will by governors and legislatures. Failures of investment.<
Today’s report is a foundation for action. The issue now is whether leaders will act, or whether more tragedies and institutional violence will occur and simply more reports will be written. It is a challenge that extends beyond Virginia to every state.
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