As the New Year arrives, let's not forget Newtown. It was just short weeks ago that our country reeled in horror as we heard of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives 20 young children and 8 adults. Since then, we've pushed those frightening thoughts and images out of our minds so that we could celebrate Christmas and other holidays, and relax and enjoy time with family and friends.
As we ring in the New Year, though, let's not allow the holidays to dull our senses regarding the events at Newtown, Conn., and before it, in Chardon; and others. Discussions are under way as to how best to keep our schools and children safe. Placing armed officials (either police or specially trained teachers) in every school building seems to be on several "to do" lists for protecting them. While those may be appropriate actions for some to suggest, there might be more pragmatic options to support our children, adults and community. Have we considered that there are effective, cost-efficient strategies to reduce the number of these tragedies in the first place?
"Human behavior and violence is very complex. We struggle to predict and prevent violent acts, which can derive from a multitude of factors," said psychiatrist Brian Welsh, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Coleman Professional Services. "While mental illness, especially untreated, can be a risk factor associated with violence, there are many other risk factors, including substance abuse, a history of violence, and poor impulse control that may carry weight." He went on to say, "In the instances when violent behavior may occur as a manifestation of a mental illness, treatment of the disorder can be beneficial in decreasing the risk of violence."
Coleman believes that intervention and easy access to behavioral health care services is essential. That means we need to both provide quick and easy access to those services and to advocate for those services. Our community must change their attitude and stop the negative stigma of mental illness. We need to openly seek out treatment just as for any other serious health disease. We want people who are experiencing problems to be seen by a mental health provider instead of hiding or being ashamed of the problem. Children and adults need to be seen immediately whether or not they have a scheduled appointment. Coleman strives to provide services for those who need them regardless of their ability to pay. Community mental health organizations like Coleman must forge ahead to make sure we don't miss a hint of a child or adult in trouble, who are troubled, or who could cause trouble. It is a tough task, and to accomplish it, we need to be sure that we are continuing to train and educate our staff. We will work with our communities and other nonprofits to develop strategies for preventing these tragedies, and for handling any that, despite our best efforts, might occur.
As we look ahead and focus on prevention, let us take time to remember that those who have been affected by these crises are still recovering. As Ohio Department of Mental Health Director, Tracy Plouck said, "Counseling professionals know that there is no specified time frame for recovery and no quick fix… We will do all we can to support the efforts [of schools and others] so that our children and families can discuss their emotional needs openly and gain access to help." We at Coleman Professional Services echo Director Plouck's sentiments.
My sincere wish is that as the New Year brings hope for new beginnings, we strengthen our resolve to be advocates for persons with mental health disorders, and everyone who needs us.
Nelson W. Burns is President and CEO of Coleman Professional Services.