Implementing the mental health and substance use field response to the Newtown Tragedy | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

A time to act for the Innocents

January 12, 2013
by Ron Manderscheid
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We must undertake necessary internal transformations and engage demanding external challenges

The Newtown Tragedy has generated an exceptionally important dialogue between the mental health and substance use care community and the Obama Administration. The field has had a unique opportunity to help identify broad-based solutions for the Vice-Presidential Taskforce created by President Obama. At a meeting earlier this week chaired by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of HHS and Attorney Eric Holder of the Justice Department, widespread agreement existed around the recommendations our community provided three weeks ago in a National Call to Action:

·         Immediately implement school, family, and community-based programs to promote mental health, to prevent mental illness and substance abuse, and to provide early interventions for those exhibiting these conditions.

·         Immediately begin teaching students at all levels to recognize the signs of mental illness and addiction, and to seek help when needed. 

·         Immediately double the capacity of mental health and substance abuse programs.

·         We commend President Obama for creating a Workgroup led by Vice President Biden, in part to examine the issue of banning assault rifles and large capacity clips.

Today, we are anticipating further dialogue with representatives of the Administration and the Congress regarding actions that they will propose in response to the Newtown Tragedy. We hope that these recommendations will include clear efforts to make our mental health and substance use care and prevention system much more responsive to the pressing needs that are apparent in  communities throughout America.

As we prepare for the release of these initial recommendations, it is very important to consider several things. If we are to make significant progress in addressing the mental health and substance use issues in our schools and communities, we must be able to move beyond our traditional comfort zone. This will involve accepting many new changes and helping to lead the necessary transformation of our field. 

Both the Affordable Care Act and the National Prevention Strategy can help us transition into a new world. We currently have very little experience with this new world: near universal insurance coverage that includes mental health and substance use benefits; a new focus on disease prevention and health promotion; integrated care systems dominated by primary care entities; performance-based case-rate systems, and a range of new IT tools, among other changes. We must not simply yearn for a past which no longer exists, but rather help our field, our colleagues, and our consumers make these essential transitions. 

But, clearly, in the wake of Newtown, our work does not and should not end here. Guided by our hard-won gains of recovery/community integration and resiliency/wellness, we also must engage head-on several concerns that are currently being debated in the broader milieu. Specifically:

·         We need to have a position on gun control. A good place to start would be to support a ban on assault rifles and large magazine clips. Assault rifles have been identified for decades as a major public health problem in the United States. Others do and will have positions about this, both pro and con. We need to do so as well.



Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid


Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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