Mental health advocates look at Tucson shooting as prime example of prevention intervention

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Jan. 13, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 12, 2011 at 7:13 p.m.

The tragic shooting at a grocery store in Tucson last week put the spotlight on what local experts say is an important debate in mental health.

Jared Loughner is the 22-year-old accused of shooting a Congresswoman and killing six people at a political rally. His actions have raised the question: Could this have been prevented?

Lane Johnson, a licensed professional counselor and director of clinical programs and services at Gulf Bend Center, said people need to wait for facts to fully present itself before pegging this a mental health issue.

"I think we have to be real, real careful not to make this a mental illness issue. If we do, it just increases and solidifies the stigma of mental illness," Johnson said.

The Associated Press has reported Loughner may have schizophrenia; however, he was never diagnosed.

Whether Loughner was in fact a victim himself to mental illness, the massacre ignites the push for better safety nets for the mentally ill, Johnson said.

So what can Victoria learn?

"We are all going to have to hold ourselves accountable here, not just one program or one person," he said. "I hope we don't point a finger, but instead brush stroke our whole community."

Patsy Weppler, the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Victoria, said the massacre is a perfect example of not enough care for the mentally ill.

"Clearly this is one of those folks who fell through the cracks," she wrote in an e-mail. "Again, this is a community problem, not just the person with the illness and their families."

Ensuring that safety net services are being offered and that help is as available as much as possible for the people in the community is of utmost importance, both Weppler and Johnson said.

Helping someone to help themselves is the best thing someone can do, aside from mental health services.

"We need to move away from 'what should they have done over there' and say, 'what keeps that from happening here and are we addressing those issues,'" Johnson said.



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