Mental Health Care in U.S. Questioned Amid Another Tragedy (With CBS News Video)
In the days that followed the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a national conversation has emerged about gun control and whether stricter laws could have prevented the tragedy that left the shooter dead and 27 others dead, most of whom were young children.
The debate has also shifted attention to the mental state of the perpetrators of these heinous mass shootings and whether more needs to be done to improve mental health care in the United States amid an evident increase in these tragedies in recent years.
The issue was addressed this weekend in a now viral blog by a concerned parent called "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother." In the post, Liza Long detailed the struggles she has with her 13-year-old son whom she calls "mentally ill."
"I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son," Long wrote. "But he terrifies me."
Long wrote about the previous outbursts in which her son threatened her with a knife when she asked him to change to return his library books and other troublesome behaviors he has displayed despite having a higher-than-average intelligence. She also noted the difficulties of getting him treatment because "no individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing" and how one social worker said the only thing she could do to get her son more help is to get him charged with a crime.
"In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns," she wrote. "But it's time to talk about mental illness."
While the blog has been met with criticism, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said shortcomings in mental health care are a very real problem. He told former assistant director of the FBI and CBS News senior correspondent John Miller on Monday that it's a societal problem because the U.S. has not taken on the treatment of mental illness as effectively as it could.
"I think mental health is a big issue," Lieberman said. "It's definitely related to the frequency of these seemingly senseless and wanton killings that occur. And the way it relates is that unfortunately, individuals who have specific forms of mental illness, if untreated, can be more prone to act in a way which is socially destructive and results in harm or killing like we saw happen."
Only 5.6 percent of national health care spending goes towards mental health treatment, The Washington Post reported. Most of that money is spent on prescription drugs and outpatient treatment in a psychiatrist's office that some sufferers may not even choose to seek.
Lieberman called the stigma surrounding mental health and insurance "huge factors" getting in the way of better care, and added there is still an "uneasiness" when it comes seeking psychiatric treatment. A substantial portion of providers put limits on how much treatment is covered, assuming a psychiatrist even takes insurance.