President’s Message – January 2013
Last month, we were all stunned by the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Clackamas Town Center Mall in Oregon. That something like this could happen at what was supposed to be a safe place shocked the nation. In the wake of these tragedies, there were calls to reform both our gun laws and the way we deal with mental health issues. As a nurse I think we need to do both.
Mental health care in this nation is in need of repair. Too often, when parents are faced with a child who is a threat to his/herself or others, the only solution is to call the police. There simply is nothing that the health care system can do. Beyond that, there is not even a system in place to deal with mental health crises, and little to no coordination between the educational system, law enforcement, and health care providers. This puts families with children who are suicidal or dangerously aggressive, or both, in an untenable situation – no system to assist with their children, and no help in controlling it at home. In short, they have nowhere to turn.
This isn't just a remote problem. According to Time, about five million American children have some form of mental illness that is so severe that they suffer significant life impairment such as the inability to safely live at home or attend regular school. Funding for mental illness has dropped dramatically, and children not given “the right diagnosis” often aren't eligible for meaningful help in the health care or legal system.
While mental health coverage will be included in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, it likely won't be enough to fix the other problems in the system. And this is why I strongly believe we also need to fix our gun safety laws. There is too much at stake to believe shoring up our mental health care is enough. It's not. Loopholes in background checks for gun purchases should be closed immediately. If you are trying to buy a gun and have a child with mental health issues, you should be required to take appropriate precautions like trigger locks, proper securing of guns, and potentially even keeping the majority of your guns in a safe place outside of the home. This is just commonsense. How many more Sandy Hooks will we have until we add one word to the second amendment? It should be the right to bear arms—SAFELY!
Ken Deitz, RN