SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

April 26, 2013

Our view: Mental health legislation is promising

While the glare of the TV cameras and rigid partisanship flexed its muscle over gun control bills, there has been some quiet activity across party lines on legislation that proponents say could help prevent killings like those in Newton, Conn.

These plans, advocates say, finally address the treatment of mental illness and the root cause of such mass killings.

“This is a place where people can come together,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan. The No. 2 Senate Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said that after meeting with the families of Newtown victims, he believed that the answer above everything rests with tackling mental health problems.

“We need to make sure that the mentally ill are getting the help they need.”

Mental health advocates, who normally are uneasy about connecting violent crimes with the mentally ill because so few connections are true, are seeing this as the best opportunity for change.

The legislation, which proponents hope can be tacked onto any emerging gun bill, will finance the construction of more community mental health centers, train teachers on how to spot mental illness and provide that Medicaid cover more mental health care.

Sponsors estimate that an additional 1.5 million people with mental illness would be treated each year. President Barack Obama has joined early on by including in his budget $130 million for programs that help spot mental illness in young children, train educators to spot such signs and get them to treatment.

Unfortunately, the success of such an initiative is now being tied to the tails of any gun control bill that may emerge from Congress. But proponents are quick to point out that even those opposed to or for background checks can understand that treating mental illness may help stop the problems in which a potential killer feels can only be resolved by buying a gun.

While these provisions are currently dependent upon the enactment of some gun bill — and we are still hoping to see common-sense legislation on that front — we hope the advocates will find the political courage to break this out onto its own and champion its way through enactment even after the spotlights are turned off.

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