(NewsNation) — In response to two mass shootings that have shocked and saddened the nation in short succession, many NewsNation viewers sent in questions on the role of mental health resources.
The issue has become partisan, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Republicans placing blame for the shooting in Uvalde in part on the gunman’s state of mind.
Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, answered viewer questions on the mental health factors at issue during an appearance on “Morning in America.”
Q: Does each individual state set up its own mental health system? Or does a higher governmental agency set it up for them? And if each individual state does set up its own mental health system? How is that overseen? — Lori-Anne Crofoot, North Carolina
Thompson: You know, it’s a somewhat complex issue. Generally, there is no one who owns the mental health system, it’s a free market system. Providers are able to practice where they choose to practice and health systems or are able to invest in systems they want. Having said that, the states do contract for the Medicaid programs directly. They also provide licensure, both for providers and the insurance companies to provide mental health. And the federal government actually steps in to ensure that mental health is treated on a parity with other health care as part of the Mental Health Parity Act.
Q: What improvements and changes have been made to the mental health system in this country that helps prevent people from falling through the cracks of that system? — Lori-Anne Crofoot, North Carolina
Thompson: I think the first and most important part is a level of acceptance in mental health. Whether it’s the public sector or, frankly, in the private sector, we have been doing much more to normalize the thinking around mental health to acknowledge that people need support, need treatment at times and to recognize symptoms better. Having said that, we still have a major problem with mental health access in the country and typically, systematically diagnose for mental illness. Those are challenges that we need to address and some of the areas that we are focusing on is certainly improving. The number of providers that actually participate in networks, ensuring that we do earlier diagnosis with the system with measurement-based tools. And furthermore, to integrate behavioral health into primary care, that’s where most people want to get their help.
Q: According to a study by the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, between 1982 and 2019, 28 mass shooters had mental illness diagnoses. Why do we not connect education with health so that we can see some of the markers if somebody does have a mental health issue?
Thompson: Well, clearly, we’re not getting ahead of it as well as we could. It should be recognized that people with a mental illness are not violent typically. But clearly, there have been examples where people have been empowered with firearms and because of their mental illness have had incidents. And these incidents have been tragic. And so I would say, you know, the most important thing if we need to invest in mental health on the front end, we need to really commit to make this a part of our whole-person strategy.
If you or someone you know needs help, resources or someone to talk to, you can find it at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 1-800-273-8255. People are available to talk to 24×7.
Watch the full Q&A with Michael Thompson in the video player at the top of the page.