Local News

School shooting highlights need for more mental health care

Posted December 17, 2012

N.C. health, mental health, Medicaid generic

— No one knows what caused Adam Lanza to open fire on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last week.

Many think he had to be mentally ill to do what he did, but he was never clinically diagnosed.

Falling through the cracks, mental health advocates say, is easier when state funding for mental health is on the decline.

"Unfortunately, I think our safety net has really come unraveled over the last 10 years," said Ann Akland, past president of the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She points to state psychiatric hospitals closing, reducing 50 percent of the beds available for stays to allow people to become stable and then re-integrate them back into the community.

"What’s happening now is our crisis services are very overextended," Akland said. "So, people are going to the emergency room, and some are there for weeks trying to find a bed in a hospital. Patients might be sent home without treatment they need."

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, a proponent of mental health services in the state, says most people in North Carolina with mental health issues don't have any health insurance, and they don't qualify for Medicaid.

Ann Akland School shooting highlights need for more mental health care

That's why, she says, many are in and out of jail and crowding emergency rooms to get help.

Insko says lawmakers need to allocate funding for mental health services. She says the state has cut $80 million from the mental health budget since 1991.

Akland says that, right now, communities are left to fill the void, but money isn't there.

"It's just the resources aren't there," she said. "The services aren't there, and we have a long way to go to get everything in place."

Alliance Behavioral Healthcare oversees mental health services, for people on Medicaid or with no insurance.

Last year in Durham and Wake counties, the company managed or referred services for 30,000 people.

"If people need to be seen immediately, we have walk-in facilities open that are open 24/7, staffed by psychologists, psychiatrists and other licensed professionals," said Alliance's director of clinical operations, Sean Schreiber.

Schreiber calls the mental health services in the Triangle "robust."

Akland says she hopes the Connecticut school shooting opens the dialogue to strengthen the state's system.

"The main thing is getting people the help that they need and keeping them safe and keeping the communities safe," she said.

Akland also wants to stress that mental illness does not always lead to violence. She says 5 percent of homicides in the United States are committed by people with mental illnesses.

"If your grandmother has Alzheimer's disease, it really changes her personality and who she is as a person," Akland said. "That's similar to what happens, in some cases, with mental illness. It's a brain disease, and so what we want to do is protect and help our family members."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • kermit60 Dec 19, 2012

    Providing mental health car cost money but probably would be better. Passing more gun laws doesn't cost much but probably wouldn't do much. Given the political corectness of our elected officials and the screaming of the Anti-Gun crowd which do you think will be pushed for?

  • peppercorns Dec 18, 2012

    mental illness...he was already labeled autistic! Oh but that is different. No it is not. Call it what you will. If the brain does not function correctly, it is a mental illness. That means the person does not fall into the scope of what is considered normal. He needed treatment period, he didn't get it. You can point finger until you are blue in the face but it will not make a difference. We need to stop coddling our mentally ill and stop integrating them with society. More hospitals and more beds = less burdens on family, society and tax payers. It is cheaper to do that then all this other counseling stuff that doesn't seem to be working.

  • working for deadbeats Dec 18, 2012

    Throw some money at it.....

  • hmbear32 Dec 18, 2012

    It's not that easy. I am on Medicaid so it's a little easier, however when I was working, I had health insurance through my job. I was at the mercy of them. I think it was only 10 visits per year with a high copay. I couldn't afford that so I had to do without.

  • PracticalMagick Dec 18, 2012

    billybob, I'm glad SOMEONE understood that. I didn't know what he was talking about.

    The thing with finding other doctors or getting a different health care plan is that many are at the mercy of the VA/Tri-Care because and can't afford to run right out and pick up another plan. Others are doing well to make the premiums on their plans.

  • billybob72 Dec 18, 2012

    blue is laffing, get your facts straight. The Democrats are responsible for closing 2 state mental hospitals and replacing them with 1, thus decreasing vital beds and putting that responsibility on local governments. It is good to hear that the triangle area has an entity with walk-in services, but in other areas, qualified help can be hard to find and more costly that in a state hospital bed. Cutting state beds was, in my opinion, a big mistake by the Democrats of years past.

  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Dec 18, 2012

    even with health insurance and most insurances only allow a certain amt of visits.


    Find a better doctor and health care provider.

  • hmbear32 Dec 18, 2012

    because they don't want to believe it's true. their child couldn't do that. their child is fine. nothing is wrong. I am a teacher and I see some kids that if they don't get help soon, they will be doing the same thing. Scary! But we can't really do much about it.

  • hmbear32 Dec 18, 2012

    I just don't get it. I have been diagnosed with depression, however, when I go to ER for my real medical issues; asthma, pseudotumor cerebri, they don't think I have anything wrong. They want to blame it all on my depression. Once you have been diagnosed with a MI, that's all the medical prof see. Plus mental health care is so expensive, even with health insurance and most insurances only allow a certain amt of visits.

  • weasel2 Dec 18, 2012

    Sure glad to see this story instead one saying all guns should be taken away. Its not guns that kill but the lunatic holding it.