The Star begins a series on mental illness today. Reporters examine what is available - and what is missing - in resources for people with serious mental illness, their families and loved ones. It's a conflicted picture, because the potential for what a person can do with the right balance of therapy, medication and individual support runs smack into the reality of what a person can do within the constraints of limited insurance coverage, social stigma and a public-health system that shortchanges thousands.
While the connection to the Jan. 8 shooting, and the questions and concerns about mental illness that surround the actions of the man charged in the rampage, is unavoidable when we talk about serious mental illness in our community, it's a much more complicated, nuanced and pervasive picture.
Thousands of people in Pima County receive mental-health treatment through the public system, also referred to as AHCCCS or Medicaid. No one knows how many more seek help through private insurance coverage - or how many people simply go without, by choice or necessity.
We must talk about serious mental illness and acknowledge it. Mental illness is a medical condition, not a character flaw. The people interviewed in the news stories who talk about their personal experiences, including Star reporter Carol Ann Alaimo, who tells her own story of growing up with a mother who had serious mental illness, have started the discussion.
We must all take part, because we are all affected by serious mental illness. It's human nature to ignore a problem, even when it matters in the big picture, until we are touched directly by it, in our family or circle of friends.
The Star editorial board is spending this year focusing on mental illness and how we, as a community, address the challenges it presents to our families, schools, employers, neighborhoods and social fabric.
The instant the shooting began the morning of Jan. 8, every Tucsonan became a person touched by serious mental illness. We must be clear that we don't know the specific situation of the man charged, but what is public about his behavior before the shooting raises clear questions about his mental state. Those questions are now before the court.
The need to talk about serious mental illness runs through the planning of the April 27 free public forum on mental illness. The Star is partnering with the Schorr Family Award to present "A Delicate Balance: Creating a better, post-January 8th system to protect the public and help persons with serious mental illness."
A panel of local and national experts will talk about topics that clearly need examination - such as mental illness and violence, and how schools deal with serious mental illness - and that will be followed by a Q&A, when panelists will respond to questions from the public.
Please join the conversation.
Arizona Daily Star
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Panelists will take written questions from the audience during the event.
You can also submit a question in advance by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday, April 22.
Moderator Nicholas Breitborde will pose a mix of questions that come in during the event and those sent in advance.
If there are too many questions to pose at the forum, we plan to continue to answer them in the Star and on our website, azstarnet.com
The free and public forum "A Delicate Balance: Creating a better, post-Jan. 8 system to protect the public and help the seriously mentally ill" will be held April 27 at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus.
The event will include a forum with experts followed by a Q&A session.
The Star is partnering with the Schorr Family Award organization in the shared belief that mental illness is a paramount issue in our community. Go to www.cpsa-rbha.org and click on the "Schorr Family Award" link for more information.
The event begins at 1:45 p.m. and ends at 5. Translation services will be available upon request.
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, will give the keynote talk, "Trying to Understand Serious Mental Illness After January 8th."
A discussion panel of local and national experts will be led by Nicholas Breitborde, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the UA.
Panelists will be:
• Neal Cash, president & CEO, Community Partnership of Southern Arizona
• Dr. Ken Duckworth, assistant professor, Harvard Medical School; medical director, National Alliance on Mental Illness
• Joel Dvoskin, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at the UA College of Medicine
• Laurie Flynn, executive director, TeenScreen National Center, department of psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center
• John Pedicone, superintendent, Tucson Unified School District
• Clarke Romans, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona
After the panel discussion, participants will answer questions from the public.
Ron Barber, district director for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will speak after the Q&A. He was seriously injured in the Jan. 8 attack.