Now is the time!

One of the most disturbing revelations I have heard in the 25 years of working with very vulnerable children was from a young boy in a residential program who mentioned to me that he had been abused at gun point. This encounter led me to ask: what drives someone to be so abusive? Why is a child the object of such violence? How does someone so disturbed have access to a gun?

The answer to the last question is that guns of all sorts are easily accessible in our society. As a nation we have lost Presidents and, most recently, innocent children to gun violence and we have yet to effectively address this issue. Perhaps the senseless act of violence in Newtown, Connecticut just a month ago will prompt some action. I can only hope that this is the case and that we can muster the resolve and courage as a nation to insist that our elected officials act. 

Violence is part of our human experience; it is a reality that we confront daily on our street corners, in our homes, in places near and far. For those we serve at Hillsides such violence is the cause of the trauma that they experience and the root of the disturbances that they display. The mental health issues that we address are typically based on this trauma.

Understandably the Newtown deaths have called attention to the mental health of the perpetrators of gun violence. While it is a concern and must be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution to such violence, it is just one element of an overall approach.  It is important to understand that the vast majority of those who suffer from some form of mental illness are, more often than not, the victims of violence and not the perpetrators of it.

More than anything else, it is important to address mental illnessas any other health issue. Health is restored when ailments are quickly identified and treatment is sustained. The same is true with regard to mental health. The issue really is that mental illness is often denied and minimalized with the hope that it will pass. As a result, the vast majority of people with mental illness do not receive treatment. The lack of resources to effectively address the demand for care only makes the situation more critical.

The tragedy in Newtown has prompted all us to take seriously the role we have to play in supporting members of our families and community who may be suffering from mental illness. This is a time for us to be attentive to those among us who are vulnerable and need some assistance. This is a time for us to be supportive of measures to increase access to mental health services. This is a time for us to insist that the appropriate resources are made available to effectively treat those who are experiencing some form of mental illness. This is a time for us to do everything we can to eliminate gun-related violence.

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