Va. Tech Shooting Commission: Lack of Mental Health Services Major Safety Problem

A team of experts commissioned in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre found that a lack of mental health services is a major public safety problem, and the author of the 2008 report says little has changed now.

The fundamental problem, the author says, is public opposition to community-based facilities that would relieve the pressure on parents of mentally disturbed individuals who are violent.

The report, titled "Mental Health System Transformation After the Virginia Tech Tragedy," analyzed some of the changes and improvements that have taken place in Virginia.

But according to Richard Bonnie, one of the report's authors and an attorney who is a professor of Medicine and Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, many barriers remain in getting mental health treatment to those who desperately need it.

"We need to have programs for people who suffer from mental conditions that pull them in prior to any acts of violence they can do to themselves or others, rather than forcing them into treatment after something horrible has occurred," Bonnie told The Christian Post.

Yet when asked if the programs enacted as a result of the violence seen on the Virginia Tech campus were having an impact, Bonnie said some improvements have been made but financial woes have still persisted.

"There have been some localized improvements, however, when the recession hit in '09, the funding for mental health dried up."

Improvements that were seen in Virginia as a result of focusing on mental health include emergency evaluation processes, modification for the criteria for involuntary commitment, tightened procedures of mandatory outpatient treatment and increased state funding for community mental health services.

But funding issues aside, the authors also wonder if the political will to continue to focus on and fund such programs will remain.

"The unanswered question, however, is whether the necessary political momentum can be sustained for the long-term investment in community services and the fundamental legal changes needed to transform a system focused on managing access to scarce hospital beds to a community-based system of accessible voluntary services," reads the report. "The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 has galvanized public support for mental health system reform."

President Obama on Wednesday named a task force to look into issues surrounding gun control, but also said he would ask the group, led by Vice President Biden, to examine what role mental illness will play into the debate.

"If we're going to change things, it's going to take a wave of Americans – mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and, yes, gun owners – standing up and saying 'enough' on behalf of our kids," said Obama during his press conference.

However, some such as Rep. Thomas Reed (R-N.Y.) urged caution in proceeding to quickly in legislative matters concerning gun control and suggested that a "robust debate" take place that includes mental health services.

"If all we're going to be talking about is gun control – well, it needs to be more than that," Reed told The Boston Globe.

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