TeenScreen National Center Statement on the Tucson, Arizona Shooting
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 13, 2011
NEW YORK – In honor of the victims of the senseless shooting last weekend in Tucson, Ariz., the TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University urges a renewed nationwide focus on the need for early identification of mental illness. Equally important is stronger outreach and follow-up for those identified to be at risk for mental disorders.
While we do not know whether alleged shooter Jared Loughner was ever diagnosed with a mental illness, received treatment, or accepted help that was offered, it does seem clear that a troubled adolescent grew into a deeply disturbed young man.
Evidence has shown that adolescents and young adults are most at risk for developing a mental illness. But with early identification and intervention, the risk of long-term psychiatric problems can be significantly reduced. Adolescence is an ideal time for early identification because half of all mental health disorders start by age 14. Research has shown that most young people with mental illness can be effectively treated and lead productive lives.
Our center’s mission is to improve and expand the early detection of mental illness. Early identification through routine screening for adolescents has been endorsed by 40 leading medical professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and the Institute of Medicine. And mental health screening for adolescents is now a requirement under federal health care reform as a free preventive service.
But early detection alone is not enough to catch each troubled youth, or to prevent all tragedies. Communities must pay attention to youth who are obviously in trouble – and no longer turn a blind eye on them. Our nation has seen what happens time and time again when we overlook someone who is behaving erratically or causing disturbances. Perhaps this neglect is due to the stigma of mental illness, discomfort with the troubled person’s behavior, or an exaggerated concern for privacy, but it has a huge price tag.
We urge a nationwide discussion about what more needs to be done to intervene with young people who exhibit signs of mental disorder. A top priority must be to both identify youth with mental illness, and provide the help they need. We know that untreated mental illness can irreparably harm school performance, damage relationships with family and friends, and ruin young lives. To prevent future tragedies like what happened in Tucson, our nation must ensure that disturbed persons like Jared Loughner no longer fall through the cracks.
The TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University is a non-profit public health initiative and national policy and resource center devoted to increasing youth access to regular mental health checkups. The TeenScreen National Center is affiliated with the Columbia University Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The National Center provides free tools for physicians and school professionals and supports screening efforts at nearly 1,500 screening sites in 46 states through its TeenScreen Primary Care and TeenScreen Schools and Communities programs. www.teenscreen.org
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