Address the Mental-Health Crisis

Like everyone in the nation, Mississippi Families as Allies, a grassroots, family-led organization for children's mental health, is stunned and saddened by the atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Our hearts are with all of the families who lost loved ones.

We do not know if the painful questions that arise can ever be adequately answered. It is natural to wonder if there is a relationship between mental illness and violence. Research has repeatedly told us there is not; when someone with mental illness commits a violent act, other risk factors are involved.

We realize assurances can seem inadequate in the face of such a loss, but we urge everyone to look beyond their fears to catch a glimpse of the human face of mental illness. The children in our organization--the children we love, put to bed at night, help with homework and cheer on at football games--have mental illnesses. They are wonderful, but they face many challenges and are often bullied and ostracized. The tragedy in Newtown must not be compounded by further marginalizing children due to unfounded beliefs about mental illness.

It is important to understand that mental-health issues in children are treatable. These children can thrive when they have access to quality services, parental and youth peer support and a community free from discrimination.

In the wake of this tragedy, the nation must address the mental-health crisis of children and young adults. In the days to come, we may learn some difficult facts about failures within our system of children's mental-health care. If so, we need to honestly address them. Schools, health-care providers and community organizations need to make mental-health checkups as routine as dental and physical checkups and provide consistent care.

Our nation has to normalize mental-health care so that stigma and the fear of parent blame is no longer a deterrent to asking for help.

We are pleased to hear President Barack Obama speak of his commitment to engage in an effort aimed at preventing future tragedies. Leaders in our state need to make this commitment as well. We must be proactive to halt the millions in cuts to government-funded mental-health care that dismantle current systems of care for our young people who struggle to find meaningful help.

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