STATEWIDE — New Jersey NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, issued a release Tuesday in regard to the recent shootings in Arizona, encouraging the public to look beyond quick answers. It also implied that care for the mentally ill is flawed, in Arizona and other states.
“As a New Jersey community-based organization representing those who are affected by mental illness and their families, we are deeply saddened by the recent tragic events in Tucson, Arizona, and extend our sympathy to the families of the six individuals who died. We pray for the recovery of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the 13 other persons who were wounded.
“As the community deals with the trauma and grief of this incident, it is essential to understand the nature of mental illness-and to find out what went wrong.”
The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low. In fact, ‘the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.’ Acts of violence are exceptional. They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, usually in the mental healthcare system.
Nationwide, the mental health care system is broken. Arizona, like other states, has deeply cut mental health services. Arizona has a broad civil commitment law to require treatment if it is needed; however, the law cannot work if an evaluation is never conducted or mental health services are not available.
In specific cases such as this, authorities and the news media should seek to objectively determine every factor that may have contributed to the tragedy-so that we can act on lessons learned.
While the facts of this case are still to emerge, we urge families and individuals to note and take action when signs of deteriorating mental health are present. Mental illness is treatable, and crisis situations can be prevented when the community becomes aware of resources to access. There are psychiatric screening centers in every county in New Jersey. A list of county based screening centers is available at http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dmhs/services/centers/#14 or by calling 1-800-382-6717.