Spotlight on mental health: How do people fall through the cracks?
As Good Morning Tucson wraps up our spotlight on mental health, 9 On Your Side investigates a question that hits close to home for Tucsonans: How does someone fall through the cracks and not receive the proper treatment?Photo: Video by kgun9.com
Reporter: Justin Schecker
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As Good Morning Tucson wraps up our spotlight on mental health, 9 On Your Side investigates a question that hits close to home for Tucsonans: how does someone fall through the cracks and not receive the proper treatment?
Pima Community College suspended Jared Loughner after he posted a bizarre YouTube video saying the college was illegal under the U.S. Constitution.
PCC said he couldn't come back until he got a mental health clearance and proved he wasn't a danger to himself and others. As everyone knows, that turned out not to be the case.
"In the case of the shooter in the Tucson shootings, all of us, the collective community missed the boat and he was untreated," Congressman Ron Barber (D-Arizona) said. "And I think had he been, we would probably have people alive and not injured today."
When diagnosing patients with mental illness, doctors like the University of Arizona's Director of Counseling and Psych Services, Dr. Marian Binder, face a central dilemma.
"You can only know as much as the patient is willing to share with you," Binder told 9 On Your Side.
A majority of people with mental illness are not prone to violence, Binder said. Still, doctors have to be careful about not compromising a patient's rights when trying to identify the few who might be a threat, she added.
"You might have a gut feeling, you might have an unsettling feeling but in general that is not enough especially if the person is denying it to you," Binder said.
Binder told 9 On Your Side there is an ethical obligation to act when a patient says something that is a direct threat.
Gunmen who carry out mass shootings get the most of the media attention, but Jan. 8 survivor Barber told 9 On Your Side he's also concerned about another group of Americans that falls through the cracks -- our military veterans.
"In the military environment you don't want to come out and say I need help that way," Barber said about the stigma of asking for help. "In fact, you might get teased or otherwise feel like you're being pressured."
Barber said it's wrong for these men and women to not get the treatment they need. Many return home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"More servicemen now have committed suicide than we have lost in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan," Barber said. "That is absolutely a disgrace. We have to do better."
As the national debate on gun control reform continues following the Sandy Hook mass shootings, passing legislation to improve mental health treatment is at the top of Barber's agenda.
"The more information we can give to our community, the more we can get people the services we need," he said. "The more we're likely to reduce the stigma which keeps so many people from getting help they need."
Barber reintroduced his Mental Health First Aid act in Congress last month.
"It's kind of like first aid -- like if you go to the Red Cross to learn CPR, but applying it to mental illness," Barber said.
This bill aims to create programs to train teachers, students, first responders and others to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness, so they can refer people in need to health care providers and centers.
University of Arizona interim Dean of Students Kendal Washington-White told 9 On Your Side members of her office will refer students to counseling and psych services. But it is a campus-wide effort to look after students who might be suffering from a mental illness, she added.
"Whether it's faculty student or staff to help identify students who they feel are experiencing difficulty or trouble," Washington-White said.
This mentality of looking out for each other on campus is crucial, Washington-White said, because individuals will often develop mental disorders between the ages of 18-22.
"And once you are admitted to a university, then we all have an obligation to monitor and to take care of the students to ensure success," Washington-White told 9 On Your Side.