Byline Text

Response to President Obama's State of the Union
The New Debate - Part Three

Hadiya Pendleton deserves a vote. The children and teachers of Newtown, Connecticut, deserve a vote. President Obama is absolutely correct – they do deserve a vote. However, they deserve a vote on truth, not political agenda. Ms. Pendleton was shot and killed by gang members in Chicago Illinois – the city with the strictest and toughest gun laws in the United States. The horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, was committed by someone who had a mental health illness, with a mother who was unable to get her son the help he so desperately needed. Yes, they do deserve a vote, but an intelligent vote that will actually make a difference.

Not even once during President Obama’s entire State of the Union address was stopping gang violence and gang-related crimes or help for those with mental health illnesses mentioned. While advocating for decreasing gang violence isn’t the area that we focus on, advocating for increased mental health care and access to these services is. No administration or Congress has done more to dissolve mental health care services and access to them in this country than during the first two years of President Obama's administration.

As we observed the audience at the State of the Union address on February 12, 2013, we could not help but notice the green ribbons displayed prominently on behalf of all the victims of gun violence. It seems ironic that the same Congress that has done so much damage to the mental health care system would wear a green ribbon which is usually used to promote mental health illness awareness – primarily bipolar disorder awareness – and adding a touch of blue at the end of the ribbon with a white button in the middle to promote gun control.

Mental health care and related services are moving backwards not forwards. In 1965, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy made an unannounced visit to the Willowbrook School on Staten Island after which he stated that "the wards were less comfortable and cheerful than the cage in which we put animals at the zoo." In 1971, Geraldo Rivera brought into our homes and public awareness the horrific conditions of the institutional experience. His expose and subsequent book were the motivation responsible for changing this ancient system. According to the New York State Mental Health Association, people living with mental illnesses experience conditions in parts of our current mental health system, such as nursing homes, adult homes, prisons and jails, and services for the homeless that are no different from those that were discovered at Willowbrook when Senator Kennedy and Geraldo Rivera walked through the building.

Would you punish a diabetic for needing insulin? Would you punish a blind person because they could not see? Would you punish someone with Alzheimer’s for not being able to remember? Of course you wouldn’t. These things are out of their control. The same stands true for someone with a mental health illness. No parents want for their child to have a mental health illness, but if their child has one, then they want their child to have access to the services that will help them. So why is our civilization so set on denying people with a mental health illness the tools that they need to be successful? Many people with a mental health illness who receive the right support and treatment can live full, productive lives. Some may struggle and end up best-suited in an assistive or supportive living facility. And the reality is, yes, some may need to be hospitalized for periods of time, or even permanently. But without the appropriate support and treatment, how can we expect a good result?

One of the things that upsets us the most, is the 716 billion dollars of "waste and abuse" that was saved from Medicare and Medicaid. In reality, most of that money came from paying doctors less for their services and limiting or denying services. This holds especially true for the area of mental health services. One example is a neuropsychological evaluation that is used to evaluate an individual and helps assist doctors with a proper diagnosis of a mental health illness and recommendations for treatment. Before these cuts were made by President Obama's administration, this was something that a patient could have conducted in most cases, within a month or two. Now after the recent cuts, it can take upwards of one to two years, if not longer. We wonder exactly how President Obama views our people with mental illnesses – does President Obama think they are "waste" or does he think they are "abuse"?

Once again, we must focus on the best ways to stop horrific tragedies like what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, and in so many other places lately. We must stay focused and not lose sight on the reality that passing gun control laws are not going to resolve these issues. First, we must ensure that we blame the person causing the tragedy and not the items they use. No new legislation regarding gun control should be passed unless legislation is also passed for better mental health care services and increased access to these services.

If you have not read the first or second part of this series, you can read them here: Part 1: Sandy Hook & The New Debate and Part 2: Focus, President Obama, Focus!.

For more information on the topic of mental health care, please read our article, The National Mental Health Care Crisis.






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