Advocates Call For New Focus On Mental Health After Newtown Massacre

Updated 12/17/12 – 5:23 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Supporters of mental health funding have said the mass shooting last week in Newtown, Conn., should prompt a discussion not just of gun control laws, but the need for more attention to mental illness.

WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports gunman Adam Lanza’s problems probably didn’t start mere hours before he went on a killing spree Friday, murdering 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school after killing his own mother at their home.

James Hmurovich, president and CEO of Chicago-based Prevent Child Abuse America, said those problems were likely years in the making. He said the solution must come not only from the government, but the public – private companies and faith communities who step up with support for families.

“Gun control is something that courts and legislators have been discussing, arguing about; and a guy like me, and our organization is not going to settle that. But, I think what we need to do: we have to ask why did this happen, and what could we have done to prevent it?” Hmurovich said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty Reports

He said the country needs more mental health services to prevent such tragedies in the future.

“If we want to prevent these type of things from happening again, we have to have adequate and available mental health services, human services to meet the needs of children and families,” he said. “It didn’t start five minutes before this tragedy, it probably started years before.”

CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, although it’s already known Lanza was responsible for the deadly shooting spree, investigators are still trying to figure out why he committed the horrific crime, to provide answers for the victims’ families.

That clear picture would include insight into Lanza’s mental state.

Suzanne Andriukaitis, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago, said, while it’s not yet clear exactly what prompted Lanza’s murderous rampage, he obviously had some type of psychological issues.

“No one that is not experiencing a lot of distress, delusions, whatever, would even consider something like this,” she said.

But Andriukaitis was also quick to reject any suggestion that people who are mentally ill are more dangerous.

“People with mental illness are no more likely to become violent than anyone else in the population,” she said.

It has been reported that a Lanza family member told investigators he had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Andriukaitis said there are misconceptions about Asperger’s as well. She said any suggestion people who have Asperger’s are more likely to be aggressive or lash out simply is not true.

“People with Asperger’s are no more likely to be aggressive and lash out than any of us are,” she said. “We are all of us – every one of us; you, me, everybody – capable of becoming angry. Given enough stressor, given enough provocation, we can all become angry and lash out. We’re all capable of it.”

As for those with mental illnesses, Andriukaitis and other advocates insisted we should care enough about mental health not just to prevent violence, but because those who suffer from mental illness are human beings who need help.

Hmurovich said everyone, not just politicians, must work to prevent shootings like the one in Newtown from happening again.

“We can do it personally, we can do it as a member of a community, and we also have to look at policy directives; not only from our government, but from businesses, youth-serving organizations, faith communities,” he said.

More from Nancy Harty
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