Advocate editorial board opinion: We must start now to address problem of mental illness

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Jan. 14, 2011 at 7:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 14, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.

Many journalists and others have tried to determine what motivated Tucson shooter Jared Loughner to kill six people and injure 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Some speculate the 22-year-old was influenced by hate and talk show pundits. Others say Loughner was mentally ill, while still others say both reasons led to his killing spree.

We think it is clear that Loughner is an untreated mentally ill person. After all, Loughner left a long trail of evidence he was ill. Most likely, parents and others associated with Loughner did not know what to do.

He believed the government was trying to control people using grammar. Could he have gotten this idea from George Orwell's book, "1984," and in that book the totalitarian government's "newspeak," a limited language created by the government to control its people? Who knows?

Regardless, Loughner for some time has demonstrated the characteristics of paranoid schizophrenics and such books only add fuel to his illness. That said, what do we do about such diseases? How do we recognize it and get help for the afflicted?

It seems many people don't even recognize mental illness as a problem, as if it doesn't exist. Mental illness exists, and ignoring it is asking for trouble, as it might be the case of Loughner and others who have killed in such sprees, such as Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007; James Oliver Huberty, who killed 21 people at a San Ysidro, Calif., McDonald's in 1984; Patrick Sherill, who killed 14 people at a U.S. Postal Service station in 1986; and the list goes on and on.

Ignoring it is expensive because mentally ill people end up in jail when they should be treated for their disease. Incarceration is expensive and does not solve the real problem.

As Gulf Bend Center Executive Director Don Polzin said, mental illness is a community problem. In other words, the problem's solution begins right here in our region.

"I have always advocated that the mental health of our community is a community issue and must be addressed in that manner. It is not any one individual's or any one organization's responsibility. When any one of us is diminished, we all are diminished," Polzin said. "We as a community, a state and a nation should be asking ourselves what we can do collectively to be proactive in the prevention and early intervention of the mental health of our community and take action accordingly."

Polzin also has been a board member of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Development Disability Directors in Washington, D.C., and the association's executive director, Dr. Ron Manderscheid, agrees with Polzin's opinion.

"Because preventing and treating mental health problems is so important to our country's public health, we ourselves must model and lead the effort to combat the stigma of silence and inaction." Manderscheid said in a message to Polzin.

We agree. We benefit from having Gulf Bend in our community because of its counseling facility, but there is much more to do. We should support treating mental illness across the state; we would thereby save money in the end by not incarcerating these mental illness victims in jails and prisons, and we would be addressing the problem. Our legislators should address this health issue.

We need to educate ourselves. The more we know and understand mental illness, the more we will be able to recognize the signs and symptoms and have readily available assistance at hand - maybe then we could prevent such tragedy as the Tucson killings.

We should stop ignoring this serious problem of mental illness and start immediately to address this problem across the nation. Or will we wait until the next spree?

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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