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Examiner
  • No easy answers on mental health issues

  • Mental illness is often stigmatized because of a lack of information, an Independence licensed professional counselor says, but that discontent is elevated even further when violent acts like a mass shooting take place.

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  • Mental illness is often stigmatized because of a lack of information, an Independence licensed professional counselor says, but that discontent is elevated even further when violent acts like a mass shooting take place.
    In February, "Frontline" on PBS aired several stories related to last December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and what motivated Adam Lanza to kill school children, educators, his mother and himself. One segment in particular, “Raising Adam Lanza,” aimed to find explanations for questions that might never be answered.
    Immediately following the Dec. 14 shootings, speculation took place about Lanza’s mental health.
    “We struggle all the time with the stigma that people with mental illness have, and when something like (Sandy Hook) occurs, it just sets that fight back even more,” said Julie A. Pratt, a licensed professional counselor and vice president of operations at Comprehensive Mental Health Services in Independence.
    People are often looking for an easy answer to why someone chose to perform certain acts, Pratt said, such as “He was mentally ill” or “He was using drugs and was high at the time.”
    Mental illness isn’t always correlated with acts of violence, Pratt said. Many people often don’t realize how common mental illness is, she said, with the National Institute of Mental Health estimating that about one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
    “I’m not sure if there’s any correlation between the level of mental illness and violence,” Pratt said, “especially in regard to guns.”
    Comprehensive Mental Health Services, which provides services for seriously mentally ill adults, for seriously emotionally disturbed children and for addiction recovery, often calls upon law enforcement for assistance, but more often than not, the call to police is to help prevent a client from harming himself or for a client’s safety, rather than threats of a client harming others, Pratt said.
    According to a pamphlet distributed by Comprehensive Mental Health, the stigma surrounding mental illness often prevents people from seeking help or even realizing that they need professional help.
    Through programs like Mental Health First Aid, Comprehensive Mental Health is aiming to tear away at that stigma while building stronger communities. Much like CPR helps to save someone’s life, the 12-hour Mental Health First Aid course teaches its students how to tell if someone is possibly experiencing depression or anxiety and whether that person might also be experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
    “That’s grown quite a bit in the past year,” Pratt said, “and certainly will with the expansion of the youth piece of it.”
    While events like last December’s shootings are tragic, Pratt said she is hopeful that more conversations will start taking place about mental illness and the resources that are available, especially with Mental Health First Aid training now available.
    Page 2 of 2 - Instead of hard-hitting debates on gun control, Pratt said a better direction might be toward further educating the public and putting more dollars and resources into prevention.
    “This may be a personal opinion, but I don’t know that the gun control direction is the way to go. In anything, if somebody wants to get something, they’re going to get it,” Pratt said. “I don’t know necessarily what is the way to go, but I’m not convinced that is the direction.”
     

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