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THE LAST WORD

Tragic results caused by mental illness can be prevented

Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 12:01 am

James Holmes this week entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in the case of the mass shootings last summer in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

Adam Lanza killed himself after murdering his mother, then 20 children and six adults in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Mental illness may be the ultimate cause behind the horrific mass shootings in recent years. But it takes even more lives through suicide, which kills more people in the United States than traffic accidents, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While mass killings are aberrations, suicides are the growing tragedy of mental illness. The CDC reports the suicide rate among Americans from ages 35-64 has risen nearly 30 percent from 1999 to 2010. Last year, according to a news release this week from Mental Health America in Allen County Inc., there were 52 suicides in our community, a more than 60 percent increase from 2011.

Even those who commit suicide, however, are just a fraction of our population who suffer mental illness. One in four American adults lives with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition, according to MHAAC, an advocacy group at 2200 Lake Ave., Suite 105.

May is Mental Health Month, and MHAAC Executive Director Lisa Freeman wants to inform the public that the most tragic outcomes of mental illness, such as suicide and mass murders, don’t have to happen.

“We want people to know that while mental illness and substance use conditions are common, they are treatable, and individuals can go on to recover and lead full and productive lives,” she said in the news release.

The CDC report states that access to mental health services is critical in addressing suicide risk and overcoming other risk factors, such as economic challenges, unemployment, relationship problems, domestic violence, substance abuse and chronic health conditions.

MHAAC reports that since November, they and other local organizations “have been meeting to develop prevention strategies to reduce stigma and barriers associated with seeking help. Prevention will be targeted toward young adults and middle-aged populations who are struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and major life changes.”

“There is a wealth of information about how to identify and treat mental health conditions and prevent suicide,” Freeman said. “It’s important that we spread the word that help is available.”

As with any ailment, people with mental illness are not likely to get better without treatment. And we can’t force people into treatment. But we can help erase the stigma of mental illness that hinders people from seeking help, a stigma fostered by the careless and crass actions and words that belittle those who are suffering.