According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 61.5 million Americans experience mental illness in a given year.
Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 experience severe mental disorders a year and for youth ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent. The United States spends approximately $193 billion in lost earnings per year due to mental illness. Over 50 percent of students (14 and over) with serious mental illness who were provided special education services within the school system they lived dropped out - the highest dropout rate of any disability group. What can Americans do about these mental health issues? Americans can bring change by reading and voting for the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013 (S.689).
Senate Bill 689 is a bipartisan policy that has 23 co-sponsors. The policy was initiated by Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in April of 2013 just after the Washington D.C. Navy Shipyard shooting. The S.689 policy is divided into two titles. According to the CBO, "Title I amends several titles of the ESEA to expand possible uses of funding to include support for school based mental health programs and other activities. The title would fund $521 million over the 2014-2018 that would pay for services, teacher training, social services training, administrators training, and programs that would help those who are or are those who are risk of suffering from mental health issues." The policy aims to add psychologist and mental health counseling jobs in schools that would focus on providing diagnosis of mental health illness in children as young as four years of age, provide therapy and/or interventions, and train educators/administrators how to look for symptoms of mental illness. If children go undiagnosed throughout his or her school years, the problem becomes worse. Eventually, mass violence could become an unfortunate result of unmet mental health needs which seems to have become an every year occurrence in the United States (i.e. movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.) recently.
The reader may be asking: How does mental health illness impact the community? I would have to ask: How does it not impact a community? Who knows when a community is going to be the next Columbine school shooting or Colorado movie theater shooting? If the United States government is looking at mental health illness and is willing to create a policy in regard to mental health illness, we have to take it seriously. Moreover, if S.689 were passed into law today, how would or could that bill benefit my community? Is there a child right now sitting in one of the local elementary schools, who is suffering from a mental illness, but is not getting the proper interventions because the local school district had to cut staff due to budget cuts or cannot provide a social worker due to budget restraints? What if that child continues to go through the school system untreated or undiagnosed? This hypothetical child could eventually be a threat to other children and/or staff. However, if the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013 were made into law, that child may receive educational and psychological interventions needed to ensure he or she does not become a problem within society. However, as of right now, this hypothetical child with a mental health issue may be a potential time bomb who could turn into the next shooter or bomber we all read about or watch on the evening news.
What can you do to help prevent mental health illness from becoming an issue in your community? First, you can contact your elected officials. For instance, New York State Senator Charles Schumer is one of the 23 co-sponsors for the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013. He can be contacted at 130 S. Elmwood Ave. No. 660, Buffalo, NY 14202. Secondly, you can go to www.govtrack.us and follow the policy's movement through Congress and voice your opinion in regard to this policy. By providing your email, the govtrack.us website will send you updates when that particular bill is presented.
To conclude, please take mental health illness seriously. People who are living with mental health illnesses need our help. If enough Americans voice their concern in regard to mental health illness, we may help a child who is suffering with mental illness and prevent the next mass shooting by simply making a phone call and letting our representatives know that we want the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S.689) passed in order to help prevent a future tragedy and to also help our children level the playing field in his or her educational endeavors.
Aaron Jessey is a Jamestown native. He is now a graduate student in the University of Southern California School of Social Work.