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Fri, Feb. 28

Editorial: Mentally ill need help, not disdain

Until society quits stigmatizing mental illness, we won't conquer a problem that affects millions of families across America.

The subject is prominent once again because of the mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

But, truth be known, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crimes because of their vulnerabilities rather than perpetrators of criminal acts.

Memories of recent tragedies in Connecticut, Aurora, Colo., and Tucson weave through every discussion we have today about how to prevent violence in our country.

Debate about guns and violence aside, this country must put as much power behind finding answers to mental illness as it has in its attention to gun rights.

This past week, President Barack Obama set out his agenda for stemming gun violence in a speech to the American public, and after he left the podium, he signed executive orders giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence. "We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence," he said, adding, "I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best way to reduce" gun violence.

In response to Obama's pledge, he got applause from Michael Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), who was part of Vice President Joe Biden's task force that submitted recommendations for ending gun violence to the president. "Out of tragedy, Americans today have an opportunity that probably comes only once in a generation. The mental healthcare system has long been broken. The challenge is not to fix it, but to build it anew," he said.

In the flurry of rhetoric between gun advocates and those who want restraints on guns, the sides come together on one point: Mental health care in America gets the short end of the stick when it comes to resources and money.

Let's not let this chance for reforms get away, and let's not limit the discussion to gun violence.

First, we must realize that no family is immune to mental illness. It is a disease that is not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing, as NAMI states on its website. It is just as insidious as cancer or any crippling physical disease.

Yet, there is hope for people who suffer mental illness if they get the appropriate treatment.

These people need our support. Stigmatizing their disease only stands in our way.

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