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Mental health services: As accessible as guns?
Lynn DelaMer: Gun violence proposals make a priority of expanding access to mental health services

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THINKSTOCK.COM
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Date published: 2/3/2013

Mental health services: As accessible as guns?

The gun violence plan announced in response to the Newtown tragedy is to be applauded as it makes mental health a priority--highlighting prevention, early intervention and education, and recognizing the need to integrate mental health into school and community life.

Historically, the majority of the limited resources available for mental health have been designated to serving people with the most serious mental illnesses. Shifting the philosophy from wellness and recovery for people with serious mental illness, to wellness and resilience for people of all ages, addresses the need for expanded services for our young people.

Three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. Insurance coverage for mental health problems is essential to increase access to care for many who would otherwise, and do, go without treatment. Compliance with the Mental Health Parity Act enacted years ago is vital to expanding access to mental health services at the same cost as physical-illness services.

Many of the initiatives included in the plan will increase education and treatment, such as equipping our children with coping skills at a young age and building support systems for those at risk for mental health problems through young adulthood. The proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) will go far to prepare teachers and others to identify mental health problems in children and provide a system for referral and intervention.

A national dialogue on mental health is critical to changing the conversation surrounding mental health, improving understanding, and eliminating stigma. Drawing the entire community into the effort is an invaluable part of the solution. Access to mental health services should be as easy as access to guns.

Let's hope the spirit of the plan will result in action and that individuals with mental health conditions--57 million Americans--will not be stigmatized or deterred from seeking the help and care they need and deserve.

Lynn DelaMer

Fredericksburg

Ms. DelaMer is executive director of Mental Health America of Fredericksburg, a nonprofit group.