In 2012, the behavioral health community prepared the following call to action, addressed to the president and our leaders in Congress in response to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. At that time, 125 national organizations signed this document. Note: I simply have updated the wording to reflect the Parkland, Fla. tragedy. The call to action is exactly the same.
Call to National Action to Respond to the Parkland Tragedy from the Mental Health and Substance Use Care Community
Dear Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, and Members of Congress:
As people who have direct, lived experience with mental illness and addiction, as family members caring for our loved ones with these illnesses, as counselors and healthcare workers, and as leaders of behavioral health programs, we all call on you, the leaders of our nation, to begin with us a road to recovery from the Parkland tragedy.
We grieve for those murdered in Parkland. These are our children, our neighbors, our families, our friends. There can be no greater tragedy in a society than losing its young, its own future, so needlessly and so senselessly. Such actions strike at the very heart of who we are and who we hope to become.
So we must grieve. We grieve for the families who lost their children, for the families of their teachers who were killed, for the entire Parkland community, and for America itself. Yet, we owe them all so much, much more than just our tears. They also deserve our action to identify and implement solutions.
To begin our recovery, we recommend that you provide federal support and assistance to:
1. Immediately implement school, family, and community-based programs to promote mental health, to prevent mental illness and substance use, and to provide early interventions for those exhibiting these conditions. Prevention and early intervention strategies can strengthen children’s and families’ mental health and resiliency, prevent or lessen the burden of illness, and help to recover from trauma. Further, teachers must be taught how to identify troubled children early and to guide them into effective supports before these children get into difficulties.
2. Immediately begin teaching students at all levels to recognize the signs of mental illness and addiction, and to seek help when needed. Few young people get even a single hour of education about mental illness or addiction, its signs or its treatment. We can’t expect people to step forward or to seek help for themselves or a family member when we don’t even provide them the rudimentary tools to do so. We must begin now.
3. Immediately double the capacity of mental health and substance use programs. Funding for community mental health and substance use treatment services has been dramatically inadequate. As a result, only a third of those with moderate mental illness, two-thirds of those with severe illness and slightly more than one-tenth of persons with a substance use disorder ever receive any care. Families simply cannot get badly needed care. The Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity law must be implemented fully. We must expand peer support services. Mental health and substance use care must be fully integrated into good medical care.