National and Local Shootings Raise Mental Health Funding Debate

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CLAY COUNTY, Mo. -- The Connecticut school killings have sparked heated gun control debate, but some say the debate should include services for the mentally ill.

A Clay County man who also struggled with mental illness recently shot and killed his wife and the 14-year-old boy they were caring for and then killed himself.

Local experts say for years mental health services have faced severe budget cuts. But there's no clear answer whether better funding would prevent violence like mass shootings or a man who suddenly turns on his own family.

On Monday, a husband and wife and the teenage boy they cared for were found shot dead inside their rural Clay County home. The Clay County Sheriff Bob Boydson says the man was mentally ill, so he couldn't help but think about that, and the shooting in Connecticut, and he raised his concerns about mental health funding.

Boydson says funding cuts over the years have led to lots of mental health facilities closing.

"It's just so sad that probably three-fourths of the inmates in our Clay County jail are in some need of mental health treatment," he said.

Tri-County Mental Health Services CEO Thomas Cranshaw agrees, saying when politicians cut money, the problem doesn't go away.

"The mental disorder does not go away," he says, "it gets treated in more expensive settings like hospitals like jails like nursing homes."

Cranshaw says 10-20 percent of the U.S. population has a mental illness but 44-percent do not get treatment. The reasons range from fear of stigma, to concerns about the expense. But Joann Werner, Associate Director at Tri-County Mental Health, says treatment can catch early warning signs of trouble.

"You can't predict but you can look at their history, look at their current state of mind, what they're experiencing as far as symptoms, and address that with medications and therapy," says Werner.

But even getting access to help doesn't guarantee that the killing will stop.

"The bigger challenge is to know when mental illness will manifest into a tragic act of violence," says Cranshaw, "that's the big unknown."

This debate does have some urgency because as the fiscal cliff approaches, mental health services would face an eight-percent cut. Tri-County Mental Health says a cut like that would seriously impact access to services.

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