Our Opinion: Strengthen mental health services

Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposal to strengthen mental health services in Missouri is the right thing to do — regardless of circumstances.

Many observers, including us, have urged greater attention to mental health issues in the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings, including the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Mental health issues, unfortunately, have been burdened with a stigma — one that is not eased by linkage to violence.

We believe mass murderers suffer from mental illness, but — and this is important — people with mental health issues are not necessarily prone to violence.

“The vast, vast majority of people with mental illnesses will be victims, not perpetrators,” said state Mental Health Director Keith Schafer. “The vast majority will be vulnerable to being taken advantage of, they’ll be vulnerable to poverty, they will be vulnerable to all kinds of difficulties that will make life extremely hard, their quality of life extremely bad.”

Nixon’s proposal to add $10.1 million to the state budget for mental health services is not designed to help any specific segment of people, it is designed to help everyone. The money largely would come from federal sources.

Like any medical condition, the sooner the illness is identified, the sooner effective treatment can be provided to enhance quality of life.

Nixon’s proposal keys on five areas, all designed to identify and treat people with mental health issues. The areas include:

• Expanding Mental Health First Aid training for educators, students, law enforcement personnel, church leaders and employers.

• Improving coordination of services among schools, law enforcement and treatment providers.

• Expanding the National Alliance for Mental Illness Family-to-Family and Basics programs.

• Providing additional crisis intervention training for law enforcement.

• Enhancing emergency room diversion programs to help mental health patients receive appropriate care. The Mental Health agency estimates 1,100 people could be helped through this component.

We support strengthening mental health services not primarily as a matter or protection, but as an opportunity for participation in a meaningful, productive life.

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