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NAMI Statement: The Santa Barbara Tragedy

Published by Courtney Hall

What Can Communities and Families Do?

ARLINGTON, Va., May 27, 2014 – Mary Giliberti, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has issued the following statement about the May 23 tragedy in Santa Barbara:

“NAMI shares the sadness of other Americans over the Santa Barbara tragedy and extends our sympathy to the families of all who were killed or wounded. NAMI is an organization of individual and families affected by mental illness and we also recognize the pain experienced by the family of Elliot Rodger, who was responsible for the tragedy.

Clear facts in tragedies often emerge slowly. It is especially important not to speculate about diagnoses through the news media or rush to judgment about what went wrong. However, it does seem clear that Mr. Rodger received some mental health treatment and at least one welfare check by police.

When tragedies occur, it often is because something in the mental health care system went terribly wrong. It is important to closely examine each case and determine what contributed to the tragedy.  In this case, police officers served as first responders and were required to make determinations that should have been made by mental health professionals.  This is often the case in communities across the country, but no matter how compassionate or well -trained police officers are, they are not mental health professionals.  It is not fair to place them in that role.

Families and communities want to know how to prevent future tragedies. Basic steps include:

  • Fill the gaps in our community mental health care systems. That includes the creation and promotion of crisis services and partnerships between mental health professionals and all first responders.
  • Improve communications between mental health professionals, individuals receiving care, and their families. Mental health privacy is important, but health care privacy laws should not stand in the way of coordinated information and action in a crisis.
  • Talk about it—within families as well as with teachers, clergy, students and community leaders. Encourage conversation about mental health, about what we are experiencing and what we can do to help. By doing so, we create and promote the space for open and honest dialogue that saves lives.”
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