At the same time, it is understandable that Americans also begin asking about the mental health of Adam Lanza, the young man who brought that horror upon us.
Not long after the tragedy unfolded, social media was abuzz with all sorts of observations and theories. Two of the most widely circulated — and criticized — were “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” written by a woman trying to deal with a gifted but dangerously mentally ill son, and “I am Adam Lanza’s Psychiatrist,” written by a physician who treats the dangerously mentally ill.
Both painted a picture of a mental health-care system that lacks the resources and politicians that lack the resolve to address the problem.
Both writers could have used Alabama as a test case for this failure. Since fiscal 2009, the state has cut its mental health budget by 36 percent — the second-largest reduction by any state. Only South Carolina cut its budget more. It is an extremely harsh example of what happens when cash-strapped legislatures cut vital state services instead of finding alternate ways to fund them.
A few things need to be made clear.
First, we do not definitively know if Adam Lanza was mentally ill or, if he was, that the illness led him to do what he did. What we have are unconfirmed media reports that strongly indicate he had some sort of mental illness.
Second, according to a 2011 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.”
However, the possibility that Lanza was not mentally ill and the “exceptionally small” contribution that mental illness makes to the level of violence in our society should not be used as an excuse for failing to provide the resources for treating mental illness. Instead, the possibility, however small, that there is a relationship between what happened at Sandy Hook and the quality of mental health care — in our state and our nation — should inspire politicians to re-examine the system and, instead of cutting the program, improve it.
Alabama and this nation need to reverse course and work to improve the treatment and care of the mentally ill. This is not something that will go away if it is ignored.