Schneider hosts forum on gun violence, mental illness

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) discusses gun violence and mental health issues at a forum at the Deerfield Police Station. | Steve Sadin/For Sun-Times Media
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) discusses gun violence and mental health issues at a forum at the Deerfield Police Station. | Steve Sadin/For Sun-Times Media

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) has been passionate about reducing gun violence since before he was elected to Congress two years ago.

Schneider offered his thoughts on the issue and gathered ideas from six community experts during a round table discussion on mental health and gun violence prevention Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Deerfield Police Station.

Referencing the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 and others before that where the shooter had mental health issues, Schneider talked about a holistic approach.

“This is something we have to do together as a community,” he said. “It’s important we have a conversation about what we do with people learning how to deal with conflict. Ninety-five percent of people with mental illness are nonviolent.”

Jerry Zachar, one of two full-time social workers employed by the Deerfield Police Department, regularly comes into contact with young people with emotional issues. He said he believes it is becoming harder to offer help.

“Access to mental health care is becoming less and less,” Zachar said. “It used to be social workers (in the schools) would meet with students. Now they are in the classroom focusing on the academic.”

Zachar blames insurance companies for not dealing with mental health issues as they do with physical health. He said he sees too many young people who are not getting care for economic reasons.

“The insurance industry is calculating in large part how choices get made,” Zacher said. “Teens may get two visits (with a therapist) and that’s not enough for a marginally depressed kid who is suicidal.”

Schneider believes the expansion of mental health coverage under the Affordable Care Act is a good step forward but that there’s still work to be done, according to Press Secretary Staci McCabe.

Beyond simply expanding insurance coverage, society must also change the way it views mental illness, said fellow roundtable member Mary Roberson. She is the clinical director of Nicasa Behavioral Health Services, a substance abuse prevention and treatment agency serving Lake County.

“You have to remove the stigma,” Roberson said. “You don’t say a person is depressed, you say he’s suffering from depression. You don’t say he’s an alcoholic, you say he is suffering from substance abuse.”

The label people get because of their mental illness also keeps them from getting treatment, according to Hugh Brady, president of the National Alliance for Mental Health in Illinois, a grass roots advocacy group.

“Some people will try to avoid treatment,” Brady said at the roundtable. “People who have mental illness will try to self medicate because of the stigma. They go to street drugs.”

Fellow participant Nicole Chen said she sees mental illness as only a small part of the issue.

“Mental illness is important but it is not at the heart of gun violence,” said Chen, who is president of the Illinois chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group devoted to preventing gun violence. “Universal background checks are what will keep guns out of the hands of felons, gang members and the mentally ill.”

Schneider has long supported universal background checks and thought the public reaction after the Sandy Hook killings was going to make that happen. He was disappointed when it did not.

“It was my saddest day in Congress when the Senate refused to take action,” he said.

Brady and Deerfield Police Chief John Sliozis said they believe a background check must be used with discretion. Brady spoke of a police officer in Illinois who is limited to desk duty. The officer could not get firearms identification card because he was treated for depression more than 20 years ago.

“Something that happened 20 or 30 years ago is not the problem,” Sliozis said, explaining that the bigger problem was people seeking illegal guns.

Schneider has actively supported legislation to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental issues. He is a cosponsor of two proposed laws that would provide resources for mental health crisis intervention services, provide states with tools to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws and improve records reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to McCabe.

0 Comments


Advertisement

Modal