Report to the President on the Virginia Tech Tragedy: A Missed Opportunity
A Statement by David Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO of Mental Health America
Contact: Jason Halal, 703-797-1943 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEXANDRIA, VA (June 14, 2007) - In a report to the President released yesterday, the heads of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Justice summarized their findings from a series of nationwide discussions on the shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and provided recommendations for the federal and state governments in addressing them.
While Mental Health America commends the effort, the report fails to confront or even acknowledge the fundamental problem highlighted by this tragedy: our nation's mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails on nearly every level to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. We have science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental health conditions, but government - at every level - has failed to harness that science and invest in mental health.
To its credit, the report does acknowledge that "it is critical to get people with mental illnesses the services they need." But its recommendations fall far short of what's needed to achieve that critical objective. If we are serious about averting such tragedies, the federal government must fund programs to get people those needed services. One powerful step would be to invest in seamlessly linking people who are in acute psychiatric distress (and who show up in emergency rooms or come into contact with law enforcement) with proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health treatment. Tragically, this report steers clear of any funding proposal or commitment.
In terms of fundamental lessons-learned, the Virginia Tech shooting is not ultimately an issue of law enforcement or information-sharing. It is a tragic reminder that we have treatment tools that work, and yet we fail to deploy them. Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. So well-intentioned measures, such as legislation to help states supply mental health information to a federal data-base, will have little protective effect. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in community-based mental health services. It is tragic that this commission missed the opportunity to say so.
Over two thirds of adults and over half of children with a diagnosable mental health condition do not receive the mental health treatment and services they need. Society pays in welfare costs, lost productivity, hospitalizations, homelessness, needless incarcerations and suicides.
Mental Health America urges the President and Congress to recognize the Virginia Tech tragedy for what it really is - a sign of our failure to address the largest public health and economic concern in the nation. Mental Health America looks forward to working with the nation's leaders to tackle this pressing and critically important issue.
Mental Health America is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives. With our more than 320 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation - everyday and in times of crisis.