The violence wreaked by citizens against citizens has been horrifying in recent years. Whether it’s the recent shooting horror at Sandy Hook Elementary; the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre; or at a supermarket near Tucson, Ariz., where bullets grievously wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford — the level of attention paid to violence prevention on school campuses and in public spaces has risen dramatically, and rightfully so.
There appears to be a clear intersection between the safety of the campus and public spaces with access to firearms, individual propensities for violence toward others, the uncomfortable realities of suicide and the way in which mental illnesses are managed and mismanaged in this country. While discussions target many of these issues singularly, none has yet to satisfy our need for a solid strategy on how to create solutions that are preventive.
All too often, the stigma carried by mental illness reduces the value of our discussions by focusing on issues of individual failure, character flaws and extreme examples of sociopathic violence. This can be counterproductive and breeds misinformation with few solutions. It seems prudent that a thoughtful response is in order to mobilize those who are ready to change the outcome. It is time for us to become proactive and integrative in our approach to preventing violence and upgrading mental health care.
If we adjust our view and agree that this is a larger and more philosophical discussion about the mission of health care, we see that mental health needs to be brought into parity with physical health if we want to stop reacting to crises and start heading them off.
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Early interventions that focus on mental health counseling should be emphasized to change the system and start providing decent levels of care for people with mental illnesses.
Let’s take immediate steps by bringing appropriate levels of mental health care professionals to our school campuses to treat young people who are suffering. We can buffer the pressures felt by educators and administrators, confront the culture of bullying and be a line of defense against violence on school campuses.
Research shows that bullying and other psychosocial traumas predispose individuals to mental illness and tendencies toward violence.
The challenge of preventing violence hinges on our ability to address the toxic effects of fear, intimidation, marginalization and powerlessness. If we can work to limit the effects of these pressures on our citizens with aid from professionals (such as therapists, social workers, psychologists and police officers), then we will have performed a healing service for our community, our state and our nation.
The Community Counseling Center of San Luis Obispo County Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) agency that has been providing affordable, professional counseling to low-to-moderate income and uninsured patients since 1968. Powered by a team of more than 70 volunteer counselors, the CCC is the oldest nonprofit mental health provider in the county, having served more than 40,000 clients with 3,500 therapists in its 45-year history.
Its program model is cost effective and requires a unique investment from professionals in the community. In 2007, the center began receiving Prevention and Early Intervention grant funding from the Proposition 63 Mental Health Services Act. The number of youths and young adults served by the agency has since increased steadily. Just this year, the CCC inked a contract with the Atascadero and Lucia Mar school districts to provide school-based counseling for students in an effort to repair major cracks left with district budget cuts. If our community is looking for answers and effective ways to protect SLO County from the culture of violence and mental health care disparity that afflicts the nation, then please take the time to learn more about the Community Counseling Center and its mission to build and support emotionally strong individuals, couples and families through confidential and affordable counseling, education and advocacy.
I also encourage you to find ways to engage with other contributors to our local mental health safety net, such as Transitions Mental Health Association, Hospice of SLO, The Women’s Shelter Program of SLO County, the North County Women’s Shelter/SARP Center, the Kinship Center, and SLO County Behavioral Health.
Put simply, there is nothing more important in matters of mental health than knowing how to “ask for help,” where to “go for help” and to “be heard and understood” while receiving that help. The Community Counseling Center is here and ready to help face these challenges.
James Statler is executive director of the Community Counseling Center of San Luis Obispo County.