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A response to the Tucson tragedy from a mental health perspective

Editor:
      On Jan. 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot in Tucson, Arizona, by a 22-year-old man named Jared Lee Loughner. Six victims were killed, and Rep. Giffords is rehabilitating in a Houston hospital.
      How can any sense be made from such a senseless and horrible act of violence? One way to approach this question is to look at possible causes and see where we as a society can intervene now to prevent such causes from leading to a similar event in the future.
      Jared Lee Loughner had displayed increasingly severe symptoms of mental illness over the past several years. A brief viewing of the intense media coverage will reveal most, if not all, of the events that marked his decline: erratic behavior at school, difficulty keeping a job, run-ins with the law, drug and alcohol problems, making nonsensical or difficult-to-understand comments. This man’s mental and emotional decline resulted in the events of January 8.
      If friends, family, and others in our community are exhibiting signs of mental illness, steps of intervention can be taken to encourage them to get professional help that will improve their condition. While it would be a serious mistake to assume that all people with mental illness are violent or will one day become violent, it is also a serious mistake to assume that a person with mental illness is harmless and should be ignored or marginalized.
      The simple belief that every person with mental illness deserves an opportunity to recover, to have a better life, and to be a productive member of society can motivate us to help those in need around us.
      Looking at lifetime prevalence rates is also interesting and quite eye-opening. For any mental disorder (including substance disorders), the lifetime prevalence rate is an astonishing 57.4 percent. That equates to more than one in every two Americans.
      Mental illness is a real, and treatable, problem in our society. If it does not affect you personally, it is almost certainly going to affect a friend or family member; but if we take care of each person in our communities who needs care, then we can prevent smaller problems from becoming bigger problems.
      Pineland Community Service Board provides services and treatment for mental health, developmental disabilities, and addictive diseases. Please do not hesitate to make use of these and other services in your community if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness.
Jason Blizzard
Pineland Community Service Board
Statesboro

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