By Tim Ryan
The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has cast a grim light on the woeful inadequacies of mental illness treatment in our nation.
As we reflect after this horrible event, it is important to remember that access to mental health treatment in the United States is not meeting the same standards as those of medical treatment.
While nearly 60 percent of the 45 million American adults who are afflicted with mental illnesses go untreated, recent reports also show that only half of children with mental disorders have received treatment for their illness in the past year.
Tragedies like the one we saw Dec. 14 are devastating reminders of the need to increase funding for mental health services.
I will continue to advocate for mental health parity, ensuring that every American has the resources and ability to be treated for mental illnesses at the same level that they would be treated for medical illnesses. In 2008, I was proud to support the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was a major step toward achieving equality in medical and mental health benefits.
Unfortunately, mental health patients around the country are still having difficulties in receiving quality treatment.
This is inexcusable. As co-chair of the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, I have worked closely with my congressional colleagues to demand that those people suffering from mental illnesses receive the same standard of treatment.
Until that is a reality, we need to find ways to provide services to people whether they can afford them or not. The price of not treating all of those in need is too high — as we are painfully finding out.
The tragedies we have endured as a nation in recent years have created the question of how we can improve the psychological and behavioral environment of our children. They remind us that we need to find a way to make sure our young people do not become physically and socially isolated from their families, friends and school communities.
Because of our technology, we think we are more connected to each other, but we are often interacting with phones and computers — and not each other. In many respects we are more disconnected than ever.
We must also re-evaluate how we teach our kids. It is not enough that our students succeed in reading, writing and arithmetic. They must learn the social and emotional skills which will not only help them achieve higher grades, but also will help them have better attitudes about themselves and improve their social interactions with others.
As adults, we need to employ strategies that will reduce stress, reorient our work lives and take the time to foster deep and long-lasting relationships.
There cannot be just one response to Sandy Hook and other shootings around the country, but no matter what other actions are taken, we cannot overlook the fact that we need to change the way we view and treat mental health illness in this country.
We are learning a hard lesson that this important issue can no longer be ignored and that improving the well-being of these individuals is crucial for our country.
Ryan, a Democrat, represents parts of Summit, Portage, Trumbull and Mahoning counties in the U.S. House.