After Jared Lee Loughner allegedly pulled out a weapon and started shooting in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, discussion and debate quickly began on a wide range of issues, including gun control, elected officials’ safety and the need for civility and respect during political debate. There were also constant updates: daily reports about Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s medical condition; stories about those who lost their lives as well as those who helped to save lives; analysis of Loughner’s “behavior” in court; intense scrutiny of the community in southern Arizona previously known for its natural beauty and its attractiveness to people with active lifestyles, its identity now usurped by three words: “Tragedy in Tucson.”
Of all the topics that emerged after that fateful day in Tucson, the one many of us followed most closely was how the mental health system had failed and what could be done to prevent a repeat of such a horrific event. Let me reiterate: I wrote that the system failed; I did not say that mental health professionals failed. The overlapping and convoluted laws in Arizona (which, unfortunately, are also present in many other parts of the country) allowed Jared Loughner to fall through any type of safety net that might have foreseen and perhaps prevented the rampage of which he is accused.
One thing I did not hear in the ensuing discussion was an acknowledgment of the actions that mental health systems in communities nationwide take each and every day to prevent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other Jared Loughners from carrying out such atrocities. Daily, there are hundreds of thousands of mental health professionals providing services to ensure the safety of our communities. Those of you who are mental health professionals, counselor educators and graduate student interns are doing an amazing job of helping the tens of thousands of others who might have the potential, and perhaps the intent, to do what Jared Loughner allegedly did. I want to thank and congratulate you for the work you do, the commitment you have made and the dedication you have shown to your students and your clients.
Let’s face it — Jared Loughner appears to have been a time bomb waiting to go off and, unfortunately, he did slip past all of the services and warning systems designed to alert officials and professionals to impending disaster. Some will use the incident to argue the appropriateness of the death penalty for such a heinous crime. Others will engage in discussions that will put our elected officials in some type of security bubble. Still others will question what type of parenting Loughner received. Rather than looking to place blame, I think we need to find ways to fund services that ensure the provision of adequate crisis mental health services for those who would carry out such terrible acts.
So, as if you didn’t have enough to do already with your caseloads, counseling courses or direct service work, I am asking you to do still more. We need mental health providers who will consistently and determinedly advocate for clients, promote more funding for services and encourage the hiring of more professional counselors in a wide range of facilities, schools and community agencies.
Please get involved. Go to the American Counseling Association website, find out what we are doing in public policy and advocacy (counseling.org/PublicPolicy), then pick up that phone, or get online, and let your elected and appointed officials know what our country needs now. We all understand the need to live within our means, but as budget battles continue to heat up in Congress, in state legislatures and at all levels of local government, let’s make sure that those representing us know what the true return on investment is when funding for preventive and crisis services is made a priority. ACA will walk hand-in-hand with you in this effort. You can count on that. We owe it to all those who face challenges in their pursuit to live full, healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.
I look forward to visiting with many of you at the ACA Annual Conference & Exposition in New Orleans later this month (March 23-27). More information about the conference is at counseling.org/conference. As always, I hope you will contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have. Please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.
Thanks and be well.