The Star ran a series on mental illness April 17-20, 2011. Reporters examined 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.