Valley Mental Health Professionals Discuss Crisis Prevention
It may be nearly impossible to predict -- or prevent -- the next Columbine, Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. But mental health professionals in the Shenandoah Valley say better cooperation is a smart first step.
An expert panel Wednesday drew on the experiences of school officials, in-patient mental health providers and the Valley Community Services Board. They collectively hope to bring people "out of the shadows" by improving access to care and fighting the misconceptions about those who need it.
Among the many emotional reactions to the tragedy at Sandy Hook was a call for tighter controls on the mentally ill. But Jack Barber, the director of Western State Hospital, says people diagnosed with mental illness commit only 3 to 4 percent of violent crimes, and not the kind that makes headlines.
"The violence is incidental, impulsive, serendipitous, not well organized, not well planned," he said.
Barber's comments came before a gathering of business and community leaders from the Augusta Chamber of Commerce. The expert panel did agree that counselors, schools and mental health agencies can do a better job of reaching kids and adults who need help.
"A lot of times people know something but they don't speak up, agencies don't communicate with each other, and interventions don't take place," Barber said.
Some blame medical privacy laws for blocking that cooperation. Others say parents may not reach out for fear that their child may be stigmatized.
"It kind of postpones diagnosis or an opportunity to help those folks get better," said Robin Crowder, superintendent of Waynesboro Schools.
But Crowder says he sees success stories every day that just might help prevent the next tragedy.
"Teachers, guidance counselors, principals, bus drivers who work directly with kids and children within our buildings are really our first responders," he said.
One panelist says another key is crisis intervention training, which helps law enforcement properly deal with citizens suffering mental problems.
So far, about 100 officers in the valley have gone through the training.
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