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Insanity Plea To Put The Focus Back On Mental Health

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A view of the remodeled exterior facade of the Cinemark Century Aurora Theaters on January 17, 2013. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

A view of the remodeled exterior facade of the Cinemark Century Aurora Theaters on January 17, 2013. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

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Written by Dominic Dezzutti

With the expected announcement on Tuesday that attorneys for James Holmes will submit a not guilty by reason of insanity plea, our focus as a society should rightly turn towards insanity and mental health in general.

After the Aurora movie theater shooting, while guns and how to control access to them was rightly part of the discussion, so was mental health.

As more information leaked out about Holmes, his therapist and the notebook that will become the likely center point of the case, how to find and treat those that are mentally imbalanced enough to commit violence was beginning to rise as another focal point.

However, after the Newtown shootings, it seemed that mental health and the treatment of those in our society sick enough to do this kind of violence, took a back seat.

And while the national conversation will probably still revolve around gun control issues, the dialogue in Colorado should revert back to mental health.

If major changes and advances have occurred in the state Legislature this session on mental health issues, then I will be the first one to congratulate our lawmakers for making a difference on an issue that nearly everyone agrees. However, if that kind of advancement has indeed been made, the legislature needs to make much more noise about it.

We’ve heard more about shelter dogs and cats becoming the State Pet than we have about major changes to mental health treatment in Colorado.

And if the conversation has already occurred, have we made many changes when it comes to doctor/patient privilege? Have other privacy issues been investigated and analyzed? As a community, do we know where we want to draw the line between someone’s medical privacy and the safety of our society?

If we haven’t had this conversation as a community as of yet, it will be a definite by-product of the insanity plea that will push the James Holmes trial well into 2014. Not only will the legal definition of insanity be made clear, but how therapists treat their patients and when they should be legally bound to notify someone, and what that someone should do when notified, will all become much more familiar.

In my eyes, it’s better late than never to have this open civic dialogue. But after the dialogue, that is the real time to see some results.

I appreciate that mental health experts are doing the best they can with the current level of services and legal hurdles they face. But where is the larger, broader discussion that should be just as high profile as any other issue, gun control, gay rights, or even immigration? All of those issues get our attention, and it’s time that mental health comes back into focus before another tragedy snaps our focus back for us.

As uncomfortable as the Holmes trial will be, the fact that it will bring this issue front and center will be a positive outcome from a tragic situation.

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, on Colorado Public Television.

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