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Statement by Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO

“Mental Health America joins the country in mourning the loss of those killed in the horrific shooting that took place yesterday in Virginia. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

“Unfortunately, these incidents seem to now happen frequently in this country. We want to understand why this man turned to violence against others and suicide. What should we do in the face of tragedies like this one? 

“First, we must mourn. Second, we must remember that the large majority of those with a mental illness are not nor will they ever be violent. Those with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence. Third, we must act to fix an incredibly broken system.

“We will never know if the tragedy of yesterday could have been prevented if the killer had received appropriate mental health treatment. But we do know that too often in this country, we wait until Stage 4 to address mental illness, and often only through incarceration. 

“It is time we invest in the overall physical and mental well-being of all our citizens—every day. Like other diseases, we can and should address mental health concerns and symptoms early and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Prevention, early identification and intervention are essential to recovery.

“It is past time that we begin to act before crises occur, to prevent them and the horrible sadness they invariably leave in their wake. Nothing can reverse the horrible result of yesterday’s violence. But that does not mean we bury our heads in the sand and do nothing.

“There is currently solid, bipartisan legislation in both chambers of Congress to address our mental health system. MHA calls on Congress to address this issue immediately upon their return from recess and to work with mental health advocates to pass real reform. Now is the time to erase the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental illness, to address mental health before Stage 4, and to intervene effectively to save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses.”