The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

July 14, 2013

Taking a small step toward mental illness awareness

Crazy. Nuts. Off-kilter. Eccentric. Psycho. Insane.

Those are just several examples of the names we give to those who suffer from mental illness. The names are hurtful and often used indiscriminately with little regard to the feelings of the affected.

No matter what name we give to it, mental illness is a disease like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. And like the disease of addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex, mental illness takes a toll on a person’s mind, body and spirit. It can also affect the mind, body and spirit of everyone around them.

Days after Adam Lanza brutally shot 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, mental illness was briefly thrust into the spotlight. However, the ensuing arguments over the Second Amendment and the back-and-forth tirades of both Republicans and Democrats reduced what was clearly a mental-health issue to a gun-control issue.

Gun-rights advocates and opponents should have never politicized the tragedies of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Colo., Columbine and Virginia Tech. And while it’s impossible to say the shooters in each of those mass killings could have been helped with better access to mental-health treatment, it’s equally impossible to say it couldn’t have hurt.

Today, and for the next two Sundays, The News Courier will publish a series of articles on the state of mental health locally and in our state. Our goal is not to expose those who needlessly suffer in the shadows, but to simply raise awareness about the symptoms of mental illness, where loved ones can go for help and shine a light on shrinking resources available for patients and family members who need it most.

The series will culminate with a public forum held Tuesday, July 30, at Athens State University’s Sandridge Student Center. The event, sponsored by The News Courier and Athens State University, will feature local mental health workers, law enforcement officials and Probate Judge Charles Woodroof.

The purpose of the forum, much like this series, is to inform teachers, clergy, medical workers and the public about how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, where to turn for help and how the involuntary and voluntary commitment process works in Limestone County.

We also plan to have local legislative leaders on hand to listen to the needs. Perhaps they can also address why the state’s spending on mental health has decreased 36 percent in the last four years. That figure, according to a report issued in December by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is second only to South Carolina as the worst in the nation.

With Alabama’s mental health resources continuing to shrink, how long will it be before we have a Sandy Hook-type rampage in our state? How many lives must be lost to suicide because those who suffer from severe depression don’t know where to go for help?

We are one of the most conservative, Christian states in the nation, and that’s a large part of Alabama’s appeal. But mental illness is a disease that can’t be treated by faith alone. It takes proper medical treatment and a strong support system to properly handle the effects of mental illness on a person’s brain.

This is an issue that will require the cooperation from every community, church and lawmaker. It is only our hope that we put the issue into the public spotlight where a dialogue can begin on how to best address the problems we have.

Much like the treatment of any disease, the small steps count just as much as the giant leaps. We hope you’ll take that small step with us.

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