Since the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings that occurred last December, 37 states have revamped their efforts for working with people suffering from mental illness. The United States Congress, however, has slipped on making any similar progress despite President Obama call for “renewed national focus on mental health.”
The Sandy Hook shooter, 20-year old Adam Lanza, suffered from severe mental illness. Politico reported that in response to the shootings, at least 37 states have increased mental health spending and are beginning to implement ways to raise awareness.
Some states have made monumental efforts to identify and combat mental illness in school-aged children. Nevada planned to launch mental health screenings on high school students, and Texas increased spending by $300 million over two years and will train teachers on how to identify signs of mental illness in students.
“Sandy Hook, horrible as it was, provided the impetus for state legislatures to take mental health seriously,” said Sita Diehl, director of state policy and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Despite the successes mental health initiatives have seen on the state level, they are now just little more than hollow talking points at the federal level. The Excellence in Mental Health Act and the Mental Health in Schools Act were supposed to be two bipartisan pieces of legislation meant to bring mental health into the federal scope. However, both efforts stalled in Congress before reaching the president’s desk.
It should be noted that mentions of these bills’ journeys through the legislative process by major news organizations received a weak breath at best. Perhaps it is an indication of how much the serious issue of mental health is still largely overlooked.
However, in spite of federal inaction to progress access to mental health treatment and services, the states are still making great strides.
Deputy director of mental health services for South Carolina Geoff Mason said “With the stigma around mental health illness, [lawmakers] tend to look the other way until a tragedy like Sandy Hook… calls their attention to it.”
That attention to federal lawmakers seems to have only been a flash of passion because of Obama’s post-Newtown battle cry to focus on mental health. Democrats seemed to have wanted it because human rights and expanded medical treatment fall into their wheelhouse, and gun-liberal Republicans wanted to look like good guys. Which is impossible to do after a tragedy like Sandy Hook when you’re openly backing the NRA and gun rights.