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Will a focus on mental health system help prevent future killers?

Posted at 12:50 AM, Dec 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-18 01:37:01-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--The mourning process for the families of the victims and the nation is barely underway after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

National debates over gun control and the mental health system are seriously underway.

The faces of the people who committed mass shootings in America can become etched in our minds, but what about the people who saw those faces before they became notorious?

A blogger and mother published an article that went viral on national media outlets. She said her son shows similar behavior to Adam Lanza, the shooter in Connecticut.

“I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”

The blogger, Lisa Long, calls for serious conversations on how mental health is handled in America.  CBS 6 wanted to know what might be done in Virginia.

Virginia State Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-71st District) has already heard chatter about different ways Virginia could strengthen its mental health system.

“There's some fear we're not doing that,” said McClellan.

After the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech in which 32 people were killed, then Governor Tim Kaine provided $42 million in additional funding to Virginia's mental health system.

However, budget cuts over the years have caused that funding boost to dissipate.

McClellan wants the talks that led to that 2008 increase to return.

“I think we need to have that same comprehensive conversation now, which we can't do by January 9th [when the General Assembly reconvenes],” McClellan says.

Some psychologists say is not legislation that will fix our mental health system; instead, we need a societal shift in how we look at mental health.

Dr. Sonia Banks, a clinical psychologist based in Richmond, says at an early stage children who tend to isolate themselves can throw parents a curveball, but identifying characteristics of mental illness are already widely publicized.  It is simply a matter of seeking help.

“You've got to look at your child and look at their 360 degree environment and then at their DNA combination,” says Dr. Banks.

Dr. Banks says people should no longer be ashamed or bashful about seeking help if someone they know has social or mental issues.

“It doesn't mean that their violent.  It doesn't even mean they have a predisposition to violence. What it means is as a culture and a society we have to watch all of these factors in our children,” says Dr. Banks.

When examining your child’s mental status, Dr. Banks suggests airing on the side of what she calls “supportive caution” and examining how your child handles key societal indicators at school, home, and with friends.

What do you think could be done to advance the conversation about mental health care and what safeguards and assistance could be put in place? Tell us in the comments.