The tragedy of Newtown, Conn., is personal because we’re parents. Some of our worst fears were realized that day as we watched the stunning events unfold before us. Through our tears, we prayed that our children and our community never experience anything like that.
Two things have come out of it though and the first is the need for serious gun control legislation. The second is the state of mental health care in our nation. While no one is saying that horrific crimes occur because of mental illness, it has been pointed out that the assailant in Newtown may have required additional counseling which could possibly have prevented this event from occurring. Here’s the sad part and the reason for this letter. The possibility exists that a horrific event like Newtown or Columbine could happen here in Danville.
The reality is, our teachers, our principals and our first responders all have plans and have practiced drills for such an event and we don’t want to diminish their abilities. The responsibility is not all theirs, however, and so we as a community have to be proactive.
We, as a community, must come together and figure out what our responsibilities are. The facts are this, 3,000 kids a year die from gun violence and 3,000 people a month, non-children, die from gun violence a year. What this tells us is that we are not immune to such an event as Newtown. In fact, as a state, Illinois is cutting funding for Medicaid and mental health care. This places us in extra jeopardy because as services are removed or as funding is cut, people start slipping through the cracks.
I don’t need to keep painting the scenario but realize right now in our jails here in Danville, there are repeat offenders incarcerated simply because they have lost their Medicaid or have no health coverage for mental health or substance abuse services. In their situation, they’ve lost their Medicaid so they cannot get the necessary meds so they commit petty crimes, most unintentionally, they’re tossed back in jail and the cycle goes on.
The State’s Attorney’s office, Crosspoint, Prairie Center, the Center for Children Services/Aunt Martha’s and the Vermilion County Mental Health Board all are fighting to prevent the loss of services for this part of our community. The need dramatically outweighs the ability to meets the community’s needs.
The Vermilion County Mental Health board proposes having a community forum, a town hall meeting if you will, so we can get together and discuss what plans and safety nets are in effect right now and what our responsibilities are in such an event as Newtown.
As the discussion begins, it becomes imperative that we approach this meeting with an attitude free of judgment, one that is open and ready to face hard truths about ourselves and our behaviors.
We may be asked to change or to sacrifice but I, for one, will not look into my children’s faces and think that anything I have is more important than their safety. I ask that you join me in this conversation.
Harsha Gurujal of Danville is a member of the Vermilion County Mental Health Board.