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Letter: More funding for mental first aid

This image, taken from security cameras and released

This image, taken from security cameras and released by the FBI, shows Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis moving through the hallways of Building #197 carrying the Remington 870 shotgun. Twelve people were killed in the shooting. (Sept. 16, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Unfortunately, when mental illness is referenced in the media, it is usually in the context of the gun debate and focused on a rare and tragic occurrence of associated violence ["30 deadly minutes," News, Sept. 20].

This week is National Mental Illness Awareness Week and brings an opportunity to discuss the most overriding truths about mental illnesses: 1) They are common. In different forms, they affect 1 in 5 people at any one time, one in four in a lifetime, and one in three families; and 2) The vast majority of people who are affected by mental illness -- even in its most serious forms -- get better and experience recovery.

What is least recognized in health care and public policy circles is that, as with physical illness, early identification and intervention prevent more debilitating and tragic consequences. There are many prevention and early and rapid intervention programs that receive little or no funding as policy-makers debate whether these are essential parts of health care or instead the responsibility of government.

Mental Health First Aid, a public education program, trains first responders and teachers to ask proper questions and engage with mentally and emotionally wounded people to enable them to get help. Several bills stalled in Congress would provide critical funds for Mental Health First Aid.

Too frequently, we are reminded that tragic outcomes could have been different if, as a community, people were better able to recognize problems and intervene.

Michael Stoltz, Ronkonkoma

Editor's note: The writer is executive director of the nonprofit service agencies Clubhouse of Suffolk, Suffolk County United Veterans and the Mental Health Association of Suffolk County.