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Is it Time for the Mental Health Conversation?

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People gather for a prayer vigil at St Rose Church following an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012.  (credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

People gather for a prayer vigil at St Rose Church following an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012. (credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The tragedy in Connecticut has quickly sharpened the focus of our elected leaders to have a discussion about gun control. And indeed, that discussion should happen.

Fortunately, most Americans have fairly educated opinions about how they feel about guns. They can talk about the debate of semi-automatic and assault weapons. They know the difference between hand guns and rifles and can talk about the quantity of rounds in a magazine. Few are experts, but most have some basic understanding of the many of the issues at hand.

However, the other side of the school violence coin is as, and possibly even more important than the gun conversation.

That other side is how we address, monitor and deal with mental health issues in the United States.

Most of us have no idea how our country deals with fellow citizens with mental problems. Are there signs for all of us to catch for problems? Are there ways to monitor mental health? What are the privacy implications of said monitoring? What treatment options are available and at what cost?

If asked of me, I would have absolutely no idea how to answer the questions listed above. And I imagine that is true for most of my fellow Coloradans.

As important as the gun conversation is, it merely addresses the preferred tools of sociopaths. The strictest gun control laws in the world wouldn’t stop a maniac from building pipe bombs or even attacking school children with a knife.

If the latter example sounds far fetched, here’s a link to a story about a deranged man in China that attacked 22 schoolchildren with a knife last week.   

Again, I am not discounting the need for the conversation about guns, but our elected leaders should be even more determined to begin the difficult conversation about mental health in this country.

If we want to use our schools as a way to monitor the mental health of our children, what kind of testing would that require? What kind of experts should be available at each school? Are we prepared as a country to spend the resources that a move of this kind would need?

And for our citizens over the age of 18, what are the resources we are willing to dedicate to finding people with problems and more importantly, what do we do with them when we discover issues? We can’t lock everyone up who has ever had a homicidal thought or seems to be unable to have significant human relationships.

Are we willing to look at other factors in our society that may play into the mental health equation? And after looking at those factors, are we willing to do something about it and then pay for it?

The gun control conversation needs to happen and seems inevitable at this point. It won’t be easy and it may make all of us ask some very difficult questions. The debate may be fierce and divisive, but it’s important that it happens.

But for all of the energy and pain that the gun conversation will require, the mental health conversation will require even more.

All of us are shocked and saddened about what happened last week. And I also imagine that all of us would do anything to make sure that not one other six year old is ever lost to violence in a school ever again.

If we do feel that way, then we owe it to ourselves and to our children to bring that passion to the discussion about mental health in our country.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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