WASHINGTON, DC -
After the 2012 mass shooting of students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Obama called on America's states and communities to assess their mental health programs.
Today, nearly 400 people came to the Convention Center to talk about mental health issues in D.C., a city that has been rocked by three recent events likely connected to declining mental health: the Navy Yard mass shooting, the fatal car chase to Capitol Hill, and the self-immolation on the National Mall.
"The message we're really trying to get across today is that treatment works," declared Stephen Baron, who is currently running the D.C. Dept. of Behavioral Health. Asked if the lack of health insurance might dissuade some people from seeking therapy for mental or emotional problems, Baron answered: "We're fortunate in the District of Columbia. Most people have one form of health insurance (or another), but the mental health system is also available to those without insurance."
Practitioners at the conference stressed over and over that most people with mental illness are neither violent nor dangerous.
Adrienne Lightfoot voluntarily told us she has suffered from a bipolar disorder for most of her life: "What would eventually happen is: once I started taking the medications (and I started feeling good), I stopped taking the medicines. So I relapsed. And then it happened again. And again. So many times I can't explain it to you."
City mental health workers steered Adrienne into a "peer" program ten years ago, and she's been in recovery since. "[My peers] had the same types of disappointments, same types of families, same types of everything, but they showed me what I needed to do in order to keep myself into recovery."
Lightfoot turned a volunteer position ito a contract job, and then a full-time job with benefits.
Pediatrician Joseph Wright, also at the conference, wants teachers, parents, and social workers to concentrate on the young. "Fully half of mental health conditions present in individuals who are under the age of 14," explained Dr. Wright. "And, typically, it takes eight years for a symptom to actually be responded to with appropriate treatment."
Pediatrician Wright agrees with his mental health colleagues: modern treatments work; the key, he said, is identifying those in need, and getting those patients into treatment.
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