Gun violence can be a result of untreated mental health issues | Island Forum

By Police Chief Ed Holmes and MIYFS Director Cindy Goodwin

Over the past two months, there have been several incidents of random violence in communities across King County. As community leaders, parents and citizens, our hearts go out to the families and friends of these victims. This type of unprovoked violence is a tragedy for everyone involved. Part of the tragedy is the common thread linking these incidents — the untreated mental illness among the violent perpetrators involved. People who knew these individuals reported seeing indicators of mental illness prior to the violence, yet intervention did not happen or was not successful.

These incidents remind us of the importance of ensuring access to mental health care and the need to overcome any stigma regarding getting help for psychological issues. Rooted both in genetics and environmental factors, mental illness is a reality in every culture and does not discriminate based upon gender, education, orientation, race, social or economic standing, or any other human characteristic. Although violence against oneself or others as a result of mental illness is rare, we have recently seen too many harsh reminders of the risks of ignoring or delaying seeking professional help for mental illnesses.

On Mercer Island, there is a long-standing partnership between city departments that helps the community deal as effectively as possible with high-risk situations that include individuals with mental illness.

The Department of Youth and Family Services (YFS) makes affordable mental health care available to all Island residents, effectively intervening before issues get out of control. In addition, YFS counselors work with the police and fire departments to cooperatively address mental health crises when they arise. For example, YFS counselors are contacted by fire and police to participate in home safety and wellness checks and to help mentally ill residents access needed help and services. YFS counselors and new fire and police staff also meet to discuss available resources and procedures for making appropriate referrals for all types of mental health services.

In addition to the strong working relationship with YFS, the Mercer Island Police Department has also recently sent its officers to Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. CIT training helps officers to better understand mental illnesses, and how best to respond to these types of situations. When officers are called to these situations, it is very helpful to be able to provide the individual and their families with referral resources.

The good news is that mental illness is treatable, and counselors are trained to identify signs of potentially dangerous behavior and to arrange for appropriate care. But in order for people to receive treatment, they must first be brought to the attention of a mental health professional. Should you ever have a concern about an individual’s behavior or safety, we ask that you consult a YFS mental health professional or bring your concern up to the police. It is not nosey, rude or wrong to express honest concern for anyone, especially if you are concerned for their well-being or that of someone else. If you see a behavior or hear something that distresses you, take a moment (in confidence) to run your concern by a professional. It might save a life. Let’s learn from the recent incidences of violence and reach out for help on behalf of someone displaying signs of mental illness.

Contact Mercer Island Youth and Family Services at 275-7739, and Mercer Island Police at 275-7610.


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