Brewer calls for closer look at mental illness resources

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by Marie Saavedra

azfamily.com

Posted on December 17, 2012 at 9:08 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 20 at 7:18 PM

PHOENIX -- While there's been no official confirmation that Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza had some sort of mental illness, friends and family have speculated that it may be part of his story. That has sparked conversation across the country of the state of mental illness and how we treat it.

"I knew that we were going to get all kinds of attention but not necessarily the good attention that we wanted to," said Jim Dunn, who directs Arizona's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.

Speculation that a thought or behavioral disorder may have lead to the Connecticut gunman opening fire at the school has local officials wondering if that community has enough resources in Arizona.

Sunday evening at a vigil in Tucson, it was Rep. Ron Barber, himself a victim of a deranged shooter, who put out a call to action.

"People with mental illness, 90 percent of them never commit a violent act in their lives, but there's a small percentage that are prone to violence if they don't get treatment, and that's what we have to do is ensure that we have more treatment available," Barber said.

Monday morning it was Gov. Jan Brewer who mentioned giving state resources for mental illness a second look.

"Behavioral health would probably be something that we ought to look into and maybe have a stronger system, network, to address those issues before they get out of control or out of hand," Brewer said.

But staff at NAMI say they don't have what they need to make that happen, thanks to tens of thousands of dollars in cuts to state funding since 2011.

"It's hard because incidents like this ... I've had phone calls all weekend long, emails, and we don't even have someone to answer the phone!" Dunn said.

Dunn said money would allow them to educate more people on what to look for in a person struggling and provide programs for families already dealing with a diagnosis and fighting each day to keep their child, families and the public safe.

"If we could open those doors that the public could access them, we could have many more positive outcomes and a lot less tragic ones," Dunn said.

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