I cannot sit idly by while shootings continue, prisons grow astronomically, and mental health systems fail. As an independent educational consultant (IEC), I firmly believe that rather than take a position on guns, we should be focused on areas that we know best, by supporting increased funding for early intervention and assessment of children with behavior issues. Please read the excerpts below from a mother’s letter to the Arizona Daily Star, as well as her plea, and a father’s letter to the Hartford Courant. I think that we are responsible to focus on this issue and take a stand.

Just as IECA member Eileen Antalek suggests, “…early prevention and proactive steps are always preferred to knee jerk reactions. When a child is struggling—educationally, physically, emotionally, socially—we as a society should respond by supporting and educating the parents, and schools should not and cannot just turn away.”

One of my clients anonymously published a letter (12/19/2012) in the Arizona Daily Star as a “Desperate plea from the wilderness.”

I am writing this not because I want to but because I must. I want them to listen to me, a mother whose life has been derailed by watching mental illness engulf a cherished, golden-boy son, a mother who, only through relentless persistence and a willingness to abandon her ‘normal’ life, has been able to get help for her son.

… you need to understand mental illness. This isolation leaves them feeling angry, impotent and desperate. It is an illness, a brain disease that is very often treatable. I know major changes in law and healthcare protocol must take place, but let’s get busy and do whatever it takes to put the following in place:

  • Take early symptoms seriously.
  • Screen every young person from 18 to 28 for mental illness.
  • Respond when someone seeks help for a mentally ill family member.
  • Make it much easier for someone to be held in a hospital for 72 hours and evaluated for mental illness.
  • Consider psychosis both a medical and public-safety emergency.
  • End the stigma against mental illness.

We, as a society, better stop looking at mental illness as a stigmatized territory solely for outcasts. Let’s get familiar with it.

Paul Gionfriddo’s essay in the Hartford Courant titled Break The Chain Of Neglect For The Mentally Ill highlights some supporting thoughts.

Here are three places we could begin:

  1. Requiring behavioral health screening for all children. This would break the chain at its beginning, when the earliest symptoms of illness first start to appear.
  2. Changing special-education rules to make them more responsive to mental illness. This would break the chain at its middle, when symptoms of the disease can change the trajectory of a child’s life.
  3. Redirection funding from prisons to community mental health services. This would break the chain at its end.

Jails are now the largest mental health providers in the nation.

We are not helpless in the face of tragedy. But we are accountable.