President Obama's plan for increased gun control has created quite a stir on both the statewide and national stages, with much attention focused on Americans' access to guns -- but controversy has also arisen around its call for new legislation on mental health care.
Sen. Mark Begich thinks recruiting more mental health care professionals is one of the keys to making improvements in the nation's mental health care system.
"I think we have great practitioners as in those in the field but we don't have enough," Begich said. "I think there is a resource issue where we need to focus on getting more people hired, but the other piece is we have to interest individuals to get into the field of mental health services."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office says any debate over changes to the mental health care system needs to be a realistic and fair one.
"Senator Murkowski believes that the conversation moving forward needs to be rational and holistic -- and that any solution towards the larger problem of gun violence must involve a serious look at our mental health care work in Alaska and nationwide," her office said in a statement Thursday.
Many specific problems with the system here in Alaska have already been identified by lawmakers and health care officials.
"There is definite room for improvement," said Jeff Jessee, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. "One of the biggest ones is housing. The most important thing you can do to enhance the mental health of people who have issues is to give them stable, affordable housing."
Beyond housing, Jessee believes the responsibility for improvement falls not only on the health care system but on the community itself.
"I think part of it is familiarity," Jessee said. "It's getting them housed so people are comfortable with them in community. It's getting them engaged in community activities. It's really making them apart of our family."
Jessee believes the notion that those with mental illnesses pose a threat to society just isn't true.
"You can't say this diagnosis is more dangerous than this diagnosis," Jessee said. "It all depends on the individual and on the supports that they have. The data is pretty clear: People with mental illness are not significantly more likely to be violent like anybody else in the community."
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