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Access to Mental Health Care, Behind Mass Shootings?

"We allow access to guns, but we have difficulty helping people get access to mental health care or health care in general sometimes. And the trade-off is, innocent people are slaughtered, by people, a very small handful, but by people who react violently to the delusions that they have in their brains," Lannon said.
HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Recent violence in the United States, including the Navy Yard shooting and the incident last week at the Capitol, has many people asking why, and what role mental health plays.

Access to mental health care is what Director of the Mental Health Center in Hagerstown Mark Lannon said is the real issue.

"We allow access to guns, but we have difficulty helping people get access to mental health care or health care in general sometimes. And the trade-off is, innocent people are slaughtered, by people, a very small handful, but by people who react violently to the delusions that they have in their brains," Lannon said.

Delusions because of illnesses like schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder causing those affected to hear voices. Most people who suffer from schizophrenia don’t have voices telling them to do harm, but there are the few who do.

"For the folks who do bad things, the voices are usually telling them that they're bad people. That they need to protect themselves from other people. People are mocking them, and making fun of them. And it just leads to tragedy," Lannon said.

In light of recent shootings, Lannon said most of these cases probably could be prevented, if proper care is available. But he went on to say, access to mental health care, or health care in general, is a huge problem across the country.

But at the Mental Health Center, they screen new patients for violent behavior. If a patient hears voices telling him or her to do harm to themselves or others, they have a plan.

"We expedite getting them to a psychiatrist and monitor them closely. In time we hope to engage them so they know we're a safe place they can come to," Lannon said.

And that proper access to care has been critical for Kevin Michael, long time patient at the Mental Health Center. He said without his medication, he'd be in really rough shape.

"It's paranoia, it could be a number of different things…but I know better than not to take my medicine," Michael said.

Kevin Michael, who has been dealing with mental illness since he was nine, said besides taking his medication, it's his attitude that keeps him focused.

"Upbeat, happy-go-lucky. I think that's what it comes down to, your mood," Michael said.

Director Mark Lannon did say that they're seeing some delays in Medicaid payments due to the government shutdown, but he also said there are a lot of locally funded programs that help get people proper treatment.

The Mental Health Center sees anywhere from 250-300 patients on any given day. Lannon said providing individuals with brain illnesses, like schizophrenia, proper care and earlier screenings are keys for preventing events like mass shootings.
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