In recent weeks and months, here in the UK there has been a lot of media attention granted to the fact that less public resources are being placed into mental health. It makes a tough job even tougher for those of us who work in the mental health field, even if we are not working within public healthcare agencies. Mental health charity MIND campaign against and oppose such cuts in mental health care provision here in the UK, for example.
This past week however, has seen a spot light on mental health in the media for a number of very different reasons. Our newspapers are covering the Elliott Rodger story on their front pages. The very tragic and sad case of Elliott Rodger, who is the current suspect behind last Friday’s killings at the University of California has raised the issue of mental health resources on offer in the US, in a similar vein to that which we have debated here in the UK.
In this article entitled Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California killings at the Guardian, Santa Barbara’s county sheriff, Bill Brown is cited as blaming “failures in mental-health treatment for the fact that Rodger’s behaviour had worried people around him and precipitated three contacts with police, most recently last month, but had not caused an intervention that might have averted the slaughter.
“I think the fact of the matter is, there’s a general lack of resources in community mental-health treatment generally,” he told CNN on Sunday. “There’s also probably a lack of notification by healthcare professionals in instances when people are expressing suicidal or in certain cases homicidal thoughts or tendencies.”
The Sheriff went on to further state issues with inadequate mental healthcare:
“It’s a delicate balance,” Brown said. “You want certainly to intervene and prevent a tragedy such as we’ve experienced here, but on the same point you don’t want to stigmatise people who are seeking treatment for mental illness and you don’t want to prevent them from doing so.”
Brown continued: “It’s a double-edged sword … but there certainly is a problem and if you look at tragedies like we’ve experienced, the common factor in almost all of these mass-murder situations does appear to be people with severe mental illness who are either untreated or under-treated, who have access to firearms and who snap and go off and commit these terrible, terrible crimes.”
We can’t wholly isolate and/or exclusively blame poor mental health and there is more to discuss and debate within the numerous recent high profile cases but these cases do all seem to have that in common. Here in the UK, a very tragic recent stabbing of school teacher Ann Maguire raised similar questions about the mental health of a pupil who could commit such a crime.
Likewise, numerous reports have been made public about the increase in mental health issues in teenagers here in the UK. This Haringey mental health report published this year is just one example of such noted issues. Likewise, in this BBC article the Royal College of GPs stated earlier this year that mental health issues are more common during these times of recession. The paradox being that the same economic issues seen as contributing to an increase in mental health issues are also causing us to have less resources to deal with it.
Charities do some sterling work to offer support and resources. MIND and other mental health charities do such good work to help plug some of the gaps in awareness and resources available. A number of charities do also put a great amount of effort into altering the stigma of mental health issues here in the UK, yet I certainly see it still in existence; coupled with less resources than we have had in previous years due to austerity measures, it might seem like a worrying time.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me is that awareness is on the increase and the advances in technology and media communication is such that resources of an alternative ilk are out there and available for treating and highlighting mental health issues. Though the media coverage can make us think otherwise, these cases make such news because they are so tragic and are actually quite rare, comparatively speaking.
Could more have been done with the Elliott Rodger case? I guess only time and further investigation will tell, but hopefully there are people looking at ways that we can learn from this and other high profile tragedies to do all we can to alleviate any potential cases of this kind and recognise signals that could prevent something similar happening again and seeing that what limited resources are available, they are put to best use possible.