It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the horrific day at Virginia Tech when 32 students and faculty were killed and many others were injured by a young student with untreated mental illness. Ten years since countless lives and families were altered forever, including my own. And yet, in many ways it hurts like it was yesterday.
And there have been funding improvements. Weak laws and historic underfunding meant that most mental-health care in Virginia was delivered© in crisis mode, often by police officers or in emergency rooms. Efforts are being made to put more funding into community-based services to better balance the overwhelming burden on institutional facilities. This makes for a healthier, proactive mental-health system rather than a reactive system.
• Supportive housing: $10 million
• Criminal justice system diversion: $9.4 million
• Assertive community treatment programs: $8.8 million
• Children’s mental-health-care services: $8.4 million
• Transition-age youth mental-health-care services: $7.5 million
• Same-day intake and assessment: $6.3 million
• Mental Health First Aid and suicide prevention: $1.4 million
Although progress has been good, Virginia sits in the bottom half of states in overall ranking for mental health care per person. Virginia still needs funding to establish consistent and comprehensive services in all communities; to expand intervention, treatment and transition programs for young adults, especially for those experiencing the first signs of mental illness; to attract and retain mental-health providers in the face of a critical workforce shortage; and to establish strict quality and performance outcomes to meet the needs of families and communities in our commonwealth.
The 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre must serve as a reminder of where we came from and where we need to go. Although I am heartened by the progress, I know that those who work hard to advocate, legislate and provide need to keep the focus on continuing improvement.
Mental-health conditions affect 1 in 4 families. We have seen, too many times, the consequences of untreated mental illness and the pain it causes individuals, families and communities. We must continue our efforts in remembrance of the lives lost 10 years ago, for the lives of those who are with us today and for the lives of those tomorrow.