As the horror of Aurora, Colo., engulfs us, the national dialogue seems to be settling on gun control. Perhaps by the time this column comes to print, someone will also have mentioned our need to be more diligent in helping those who are mentally ill and the importance of providing early detection and treatment.
It is interesting how we make a distinction between physical and mental health when the brain is simply another part of the body. If we have a sore throat, we go to the doctor immediately. If we are suffering with depression or anxiety, we put it off until we are in a crisis.
Having a mental illness used to be hush-hush. Individuals and families suffered in silence and felt shunned if people knew.
Today, thanks to individuals in our community such as Integris psychiatrist Dr. Murali Krisna who has told the story of growing up with mental illness in his own family, we have begun to talk about it more openly.
Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide education, information and support groups across this state for suffering individuals and also for their family members.
The stigma, however, is not gone. On the NAMI Oklahoma website, there is an article about how perceptions of mental illness are stopping adolescents from seeking help.
I immediately thought of the young man in Colorado who slipped through the cracks of getting the help he needed. The media are making him out be a monster, and yes, what he did was monstrous, but let us not forget he was once somebody's little boy.
Most mentally ill people are not violent, and those who are might not be if they receive appropriate treatment.
I spent time last week with a dedicated group of men and women at a statewide conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Stressed was the importance of early intervention.
That department, like NAMI, is always searching for adequate funding and resources. The public needs to understand the importance of what they do and support them because the next crisis may be caused by one of our own children who slips through the cracks.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at email@example.com.