PDT Content Editor
In the wake the Newtown, Conn. shooting that saw 20 elementary students die, the 24-hour news cycle has been chewing through the different aspects of the tragedy. Jim Haas, Clinic Director of the Scioto County branch of Shawnee Mental Health Center took some time to address one of those aspects — mental illness.
Haas has been with Shawnee Mental Health for more than 30 years, serving the mental health field in various capacities through his career. He advised that tracking significant changes in behavior can help identify a mental health issue.
"They will tell you that they are sad or that they are feeling extremely anxious. Some people aren’t that verbally open and a lot of times it takes some observation on the loved one’s part," Haas said. "They can certainly tell if a person is sad, by their demeanor, by the fact that they may not be doing a lot of things they normally did before, as far as the things they had an interest in.
"They become more and more withdrawn and they might become almost reclusive at times if they are not doing well and feeling very depressed."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 36 percent of adults with mental disorders are receiving treatment during a 12-month period. Haas said some of the difficulty with addressing mental illness is the refusal of treatment.
"Again, if the person is an adult, there is no real easy way to get them treatment if they are not wanting treatment and that becomes a problem also," Haas said. "There are times when people can be proven to be a danger to themselves or others, they can be placed in the hospital for the short term and sometimes they can be may be stabilized on medication there or whatever. But the need for a followup would have to be there once they came out of the hospital to make sure they get ongoing treatment."
Another obstacle comes with the stigma attached with seeking treatment for mental illness. It’s something Haas says needs to change.
"I think a lot more needs to be done as far as becoming more open to help people avoid the stigma they feel anytime they might seek out treatment in mental health. The stigma is still very much there. And that’s what worries me so much when something like this (Newtown shooting) happens," Haas said. "I don’t know all the details around this case of the young man who killed the children, but once a person is labeled mentally ill, immediately people think, ‘Oh these mentally ill people are all dangerous.’"
Haas said the misconception of those suffering from mental illness as dangerous is off-base.
"For the most part, mentally ill people aren’t dangerous. I go out and do presentations and I talk about the fact that the mentally ill, for the most part, are no more dangerous than the rest of society," Haas said. "There are some cases where people become psychotic, and may hear voices and things like that, but for the most part mentally ill people are more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator."
Fortunately for those residents in need of help, Shawnee Mental Health has an open door policy.
"We don’t turn down anyone who approaches us for services. You can walk in if you are feeling like there is an emergency you need to talk to someone about and they will be seen, regardless of pay," Haas said. "If people walk into the door with an emergency, we will address the issue. I think that’s the most reassuring thing, that you can come in and say you have a problem, we are not going to say, ‘no, you can’t come here.’ We would address any kind of problem that comes in our door."
With the backdrop of the shooting, Haas said the perception of mental illness being dangerous is one driven by emotion and predicting the sort of violence that took place is extremely difficult.
"In this case it is hard to really address that because people are so emotionally reactive to this and they should be. It’s a horrible thing, it really is," Haas said.
Broad questions of what needs to be changed in the wake of the tragedy have been asked. In the mental health field, Haas sees problems that go beyond eliminating the stigma attached with mental illness.
"We have always had a situation where we have struggled for funding for the services that are needed for the people that are in need of income to pay for the services. There are governmental programs however, that do help in those kind of situations," he said. "Research is an ongoing need, I think. Even though this field has been here for a long, long time there is still a lot of undiscovereds out there. Things that need to be treated in a better, more effective way, speaking in generalities."
For more information on the Scioto County Clinic of Shawnee Mental Health Center visit shawneemhc.org or call 740-354-7702.
Bob Strickley can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org.