Two young women hug at a memorial service for victims and relatives of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday in Newtown, Conn.(Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images)
Families and doctors who treat the mentally ill say they hope that
Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Conn., will refocus the nation's attention
on improving mental health services.
Police have not yet released
details about the motives or mental state of shooter Adam Lanza. But
the perpetrators of similar mass murders -- at Virginia Tech, Northern
Illinois University and a Tucson gathering for Rep. Gabby Giffords, for
example -- all suffered from serious mental health conditions.
"We wait for things like this to happen and then everyone talks about
mental health," says Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, an associate professor
of psychology in the psychiatry department at Georgetown University
Medical Center. "But they quickly forget."
There are hundreds of
multiple-casualty shootings every year, says forensic psychologist Dewey
Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. People have
become so desensitized to the horror, however, that they pay no
"It's gotten to the point where only the ones with high body counts
make the news," he says. "It takes a record number, or something
extraordinary, to get our attention."
Yet mental illness destroys
countless lives everyday, he says, contributing to domestic violence
and child abuse, drug addiction, homelessness and incarceration.
Investing in mental health care and reducing its stigma could help
prevent future tragedies, he says.
"Mental health has shrunk down
to the level of short-term crisis management," Cornell says. "If we are
going to focus on prevention, we can't think about the gunman in the
parking lot and what to do with him. We have to get involved a lot
Schools and communities "have cut their mental health
services to the bone," says Cornell. "We're paying a price for it as a