Mental Health Awareness Month: Calling for a Decade of Mental Health Resources

Over the past few years, several horrific events have shattered the core of our society. While it’s tempting to see these events and look for a single easy solution to prevent these tragedies, we need to recognize that it’s not that simple, and that these acts of violence are the result of many factors. It’s important, however, that we DO keep asking questions like “What enabled this to happen?” or “What can we do to influence change so these violent acts stop happening?” Mental Health Awareness Month gives us the space to ask these questions. It’s these kinds of questions that will bring us closer to a world where we feel safe, where people’s needs are met, and where dark motives are extinguished.

When I ask myself those kinds of questions, I can’t help but think of two very common misconceptions. One misconception is that all people who act violently are diagnosed as mentally ill. Another misconception is that locking up everyone with a diagnosed mental illness will end the problem. But when I consider these questions and misconceptions, another deeper question rises to the surface – “What are we doing wrong that we are allowing our family members, neighbors, friends, and fellow human beings to reach a point where they feel the only way to express their pain is through violence?

For many of us, it is hard to conceive of reaching a point where this level of violence is an acceptable response to stress. For some though, this response – taking another human’s life in an effort of self-expression or to gain self-satisfaction – feels like not only an acceptable behavior, but the only way! We must find a way to support individuals so that when they are struggling, their first thought is not to commit an unconscionable act of violence, but instead to find a supportive place, or reach out to a person who can help. This support system does not currently exist at the level necessary to support the ever-increasing behavioral health needs in our society. That system would require developed behavioral health resources that can utilize technology and advances in clinical practices to address a person’s needs holistically.

We are experiencing a shortage of available behavioral health services in nearly every community in this country – the richest and most advanced society in the world. We have not as a country prioritized behavioral wellness to a point where we invest in the resources necessary to build a behavioral health infrastructure of quality programs, technology, and awareness. Yes, there are many other things that can and should be done. Yes, there are many places where additional resources are needed to curb the frequency of these tragedies. And yes, there are societal factors like social determinants of health that must be addressed in order to aid in the fight to end these senseless acts of violence. However, if we do not build a safety net of services that are based upon current best practices, and if we do not put time into researching causes, and increasing efforts to improve information flow within the healthcare system, and if we do not invest in growing the availability of quality, non-stigmatizing behavioral health services, we will continue to live in fear of where and when the next tragedy might happen. We must realize that ALL of these things are important, and that there is not one single answer or solution.

Within the behavioral health community, we deeply understand and feel the need for more services, more and better-trained staff, and easier access to resources and programs. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as I have written before, Mental Health Awareness Month is a nice thing, but what we need is a decade of Mental Health development with a mission to create a system that truly meets the needs of its people. Please, let us not wait for more tragedies to fight for more funding and more attention to the integration of primary, behavioral, and social service care. Mental health is not the sole cause of these violent acts, but quality behavioral health services could play a significant role in minimizing them.