We must be more attuned to mental health issues

February 26, 2010

The horror of the recent shooting rampages at Deer Creek Middle School and the University of Alabama brings a sense of déjà vu for many of us reading about the alleged shooters. Like others believe to be involved in recent tragedies, such as the November Fort Hood shooting, each apparently had a history filled with signs of mental illness.

In our society, no one would ignore an individual bleeding from a gaping wound, yet signs of mental illness routinely get misread or ignored altogether, at great peril to both the individual in need of treatment and, on rare occasion, to others.

Here in Maryland, a promising new program is underway to enhance mental health literacy among the general public. Its goal is to help the public identify when someone is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis and to develop key skills to help. Mental Health First Aid, launched statewide last year by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, focuses on recognizing the warning signs that someone may be experiencing a problem, reaching out to the individual and connecting the person to appropriate professional and support services.

It's a way to help ensure fewer Marylanders will be lost and ignored and to prevent the infrequent but potentially drastic consequences of untreated mental illness.

Jane Plapinger and Linda Raines, Baltimore

The writers are president and chief executive officer of Baltimore Mental Health Systems and executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maryland.

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