The profile of the gunman responsible for 27 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School is all too familiar, as is the massacre itself. Here was a young man alienated from his community, known to be isolated and withdrawn and pegged by many as being a bit “off.” Clearly, Adam Lanza and those who preceded him in carrying out acts of mass violence were troubled far beyond their ability to connect with resources for getting help. The ramifications of this chasm can be heartbreakingly profound, and in making expanded mental health services a priority, Gov. John Hickenlooper is attempting to address a critical component of a complex set of factors that leaves too many people separated from the help they need – and consequently puts them and others at risk.
Hickenlooper’s plan to expand mental-health services by opening five new walk-in clinics across the state and implementing a statewide crisis hotline will not solve all the mental health problems in Colorado. The $18.5 million price tag attached to the plan – which requires legislative approval – is a pittance, given the stakes. If one person intent on committing an act of public violence is prevented from purchasing a gun because of the plan’s provision that would link mental-health commitment records with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation database for background checks, the cost will have been worth it. The many Coloradans who stand to gain from increased access to mental-health care make the plan a bargain. It is money well spent, at a time where too many seem to be suffering too much.
The tragic circumstances that spurred Hickenlooper to call for the plan – July’s massacre in an Aurora movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 wounded — are seeming less an anomaly than a troubling trend made profoundly clear after the Connecticut shooting last week. James Holmes, the man accused of carrying out the theater shootings, is known to have long struggled with mental-health issues. Perhaps the ser- vices Hickenlooper proposes could have stopped him from making those deeply personal challenges an overwhelmingly violent public problem. It is impossible to know, but there is every reason to try.
But Holmes and Lanza, however troublingly prevalent such stories are becoming, remain outliers. Far more people struggle quietly and more or less functionally with mental health challenges, unsure of where to go for help or of limited means to acquire it.
While there may not be a threat of violence at the far end of this suffering for most people, there is still great pain – however personal. If there is a way for the state to facilitate some alleviation of that pain by providing services where they are sorely lacking, individuals will be strengthened and, as a result, the statewide community will benefit.
If lives are saved – one at a time, or many – the program will have been a resounding success. It is worth the gamble, regardless.