Gun deaths climb, mental health gains foothold

Tom Watkins President-CEO 2013
Tom Watkins, President/CEO of DWMHA

The debate over gun control and the Second Amendment rages on. Clearly we have a problem of violence and death associated with guns.

Compared to other affluent and modern countries like Canada, Japan, and the UK, the rate of firearm homicides in the United States is three times higher. The rate of children killed by guns is 19.5 times higher.

Since 1997, there have been 51 mass shootings in the United States, compared to numbers in the single digits in other highly developed countries. Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, the facts are clear: in America more than 30,000 people die by firearms every year. We owe it to our fellow citizens impacted by this senseless violence, our families, and our future, to not become numb to this issue.

We have all tuned into the aftermath on the news: innocent movie-goers, college students, helpless children – no one is safe from someone with a gun and enough determination to do harm. The majority of Americans, including gun owners, admit something must be done legislatively to address this madness.

Executive Action/ POTUS

President Obama recently took executive action to reduce the gun violence plaguing our nation and rotting our moral fabric. Some have scoffed at his efforts while others are applauding his actions. The president’s proposed plan will expand background checks through 24/7 processing, increased staff, and closer monitoring of online sales. Background checks would make available information such as whether buyers had a violent history.

Quality Mental Health Care

His proposal also included a $500 million investment, geared toward increasing access to mental healthcare. Although people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim than the perpetrator of a crime, increased funding for mental health can help. Besides homicides, there is a major problem of people taking their own lives committing suicide using guns. Additional mental health funding may help cut the number of people completing suicide yearly via firearm – a number eleven times higher than firearm deaths related to self-defense. Additional mental health funding would be a major victory not only for victims and families of crimes, but all individuals who struggle with accessing proper mental healthcare.

Senator Stabenow Steps Up

2016 is already proving to be a major year for mental healthcare. In addition to President Obama’s executive actions, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, announced that they will unveil new legislation early this year that will boost funding for behavioral health services across the country. Sen. Stabenow has been a champion for quality mental healthcare throughout her career. She pioneered the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which was signed into law in 2014. With the leadership of the State Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan is pursuing this demonstration funding, to enhance services, such as: 24-hour crisis psychiatric care, integrated services, and counseling.

Mental Health First Aid Training

Recently, emergency first responders across Wayne County took part in a week long mental health first aid training course provided by Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority and the Flinn Foundation. The program is geared at training first responders to identify a mental health crisis and de-escalate the situation. We have trained over 10,000 individuals over the past two years.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, who had several emergency personnel participate in the training said, “Encounters with a person in some sort of crisis happen often in our line of work, it helps to have the tools to handle them as best we can.” Further grants are now allowing the program to include even more participants throughout Detroit/Wayne County to help create awareness in our schools, neighborhoods and places of worship.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, or is need of assistance. Please reach out to our 24Hr Crisis Helpline at 800- 241-4949. Or to find out more information about Mental Health First Aid visit

Tom Watkins is president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority

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