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Mental illness not synonymous with mass shootings

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s and our state’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness, through education, support and advocacy.

We at NAMI appreciate the heightened interest and conversations about the role of mental health in our society. We all need to make sure that we are not painting all people with mental illness as violent. We all need to have an honest and productive conversation about all of the factors that play into this type of violence and what we can do to prevent these tragedies. It is time to commit to implementing strategies for engaging young people who are troubled before crises occur.

One in five adults have or will experience some form of mental illness; one in 17 have a serious mental illness – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression or other conditions that may cause significant impairment. In New Mexico, one in four adults experiences mental illness, the highest rate in the country.

Most people with mental illness will never become violent and are, in fact, more likely to be the target of violence. The truth is the vast majority of violence is not perpetrated by people with mental illness. Risks of violent behavior increase slightly with: 1) Co-occurring substance use, 2) Past history of violence, 3) Being young and male, and 4) Untreated symptoms of psychosis, which include paranoia and delusions.

The reality is that in the United States, it is easier to buy a gun than to get mental health services. We need to act with research-based approaches to end gun violence, such as gun violence prevention restraining orders, which can allow for the removal of guns from people who may pose a risk of violence to themselves and others. One reasonable option is Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) or “Red Flag” laws, which provide case-by-case determination of potential danger to self or others and include due process protections. These laws are focused on the assessment of potential danger to self and others and not just the presence of a mental health condition.

We need early intervention and screening. Education, early intervention and screening are key to breaking down barriers. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24. Mental illness is a biological and neurological condition that needs community-based mental health interventions for youth and young adults with the most serious mental illnesses.

We need more acute care and crisis stabilization services.

Hospitalizations for acute or crisis stabilization are typically shorter term and should be part of a community-based continuum of care. We need to focus on improving quality and outcomes to ensure that people get the care and coordination of services they need. We need to ensure a well-funded and strong mental health system through fully funding the Medicaid program and requiring health insurance to provide adequate coverage for mental health and substance use treatment. Yes, this will require financial support, but that support will be an investment that will benefit us all.

In New Mexico, we have four local affiliates: NAMI Albuquerque, NAMI Southern New Mexico, NAMI Santa Fe and NAMI Westside (Rio Rancho). We provide free services for those with a diagnosis of mental illness, as well as their families and caregivers. These services include weekly support groups and education programs with expert facilitator leadership and free materials.

NAMI is dedicated to advocating for mental health services, early intervention and diagnosis of mental illness, supporting those with a diagnosis of mental illness and also their families, and educating our communities about mental illness. Let’s work together on solutions to gun violence and needed mental health services.

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