A teddy bear and a nameplate mark the grave site of Olivia Rose Engel, a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, at the St. Rose of Lima Cemetery in Newtown, Connecticut January 3, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
Soul searching continues in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. last month.
Officials, law enforcement, and social services providers debate whether mental health reform could have prevented the tragedy, and whether it can prevent future violence.
A lone shooter killed his mother in their Newtown home on the morning of Dec. 14, then took her guns and car, drove to Sandy Hook and killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults before taking his own life.
Many people speculate the shooter must have had mental issues, but no details have been forthcoming.
"Police have not yet released any information about the mental state of Adam Lanza, 20, who killed his mother at her home, and 26 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, before killing himself," writes Liz Szabo in USA Today.
"Some news reports have described Lanza as having a form of autism, Asperger's syndrome, that is not associated with violence. Police have not revealed whether Lanza had additional mental health problems."
But mental health services require funding ad political will, both of which are in short supply these days.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics published a letter to Obama, asking him to lead an effort to reform mental health care, as well as to ban assault rifles," writes Szabo.
"In fact, dozens of mental health and substance abuse groups wrote an open letter to the president just a week after Newtown, making the same requests. The mental health groups went into detail as to precisely what would be needed: double the capacity of community-based mental health services; improve community and school-based programs; and teach students at all levels to recognize the signs of mental illness or addiction. Funding such an expansion at a time when the federal government is looking for places to cut would be challenging, advocates acknowledge."
Even amid the fiscal cliff and budget negotiations, advocacy groups say patients and the public can't wait any longer.
"We urge a focus beyond gun accessibility and advocate for the presence of the mental health and recovery community in this discussion," wrote advocacy group Mental Health America, in a press release.
"MHA stands ready to work with President Obama and with the Congress and recommends that the Workgroup consult the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental health and addictions experts, and those with 'lived' experience in this discussion. Further cuts to mental health and addiction must be avoided in any fiscal or long-term budget negotiations in early 2013," they wrote.
In an effort to deflect attention away from gun control measures in the wake of the shooting, gun rights groups have been an odd ally for mental health advocates. But many educators aren't interested in the "solutions" offered by groups like the National Rifle Association, which has suggesting arming teachers with guns.
"You want to arm me? Good. Then arm me with a school psychologist at my school who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing," writes Mary Cathryn Ricker, President of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.
"Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, have meaningful discussions with students about their future and not merely frantically adjust student schedules like a Jenga game," she continues.
"Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to a student's and her family's needs so I. Can. Teach."