School Shooting Highlights Mental Health Needs

The Michigan Capitol is shown at twilight Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, in Lansing, Mich. Lawmakers continue work on budget bills that deal with a $2.8 billion shortfall before an Oct. 1 deadline. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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While many parents are wondering how something like the Connecticut school shooting could happen, others are thinking it could have been their child holding the gun.

One mother shared her fears in a blog post. Her words gained national attention are are now starting the conversation about mental health. Are there enough services available and how do you access them?

While few people with mental health issues turn violent, Liza Long saw the Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, in her child. She wrote online, "I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me."

Long called him sweet and brilliant, but also wrote about his unpredictable violent outbursts and threats of suicide.

The blog struck a chord with many parents, opening up their often hidden struggles with mental illness. More than 2,600 have commented on Long's post, many telling her she's not alone.

Here in Lansing, police say mental health should be talked about. They have the power to act if someone is a threat to others or themselves, but say in most cases family members will see trouble first.

"React on it immediately, don't let things fester, don't let things continue to the what if area," Public Information Officer Robert Merritt said. "Talk to another family member, maybe get some assistance, don't take it all on your own."

Community Mental Health is the front lines of assistance for Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties.

It evaluates mental health needs and directs families to the right treatment. When police take someone into protective custody, that person goes to Community Mental Health.

But state and school funding for such services is being slashed.

"We have been systematically chipping away at the very kinds of services that we ought to be providing to families that are in stress and in need," Gilda Jacobs, with the Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocacy group for the economically vulnerable said. "This means you hae increases in domestic violence, you have increases in child abuse, you have people that just have triggers that set them off."

According to the MLPP, $50 million has been cut in the past three years and as funding plummets, collaborations between schools and mental health agencies are falling apart.

"After they cut art and gym, they cut the social workers," Jacobs explained.

Psychologists say in mental health each case is different, so it can be hard to know when to seek professional help. Still, they say unprovoked changes in behavior like not sleeping, not eating, getting in fights at school could be warning signs. Keep in mind some moodiness or anxious behavior is normal with development, they say.

Adult treatment is especially difficult for mental health workers because if a person is not willing to seek help there is little local agencies can do. They can only step in if they can prove that person is a danger to themselves or others.

Community Mental Health can be reached at (888)800-1559 or (517)649-3777 on 812 E Jolly Road in Lansing.

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