Early detection of mental illness is key to recovery [Letter]

The Columbia Mall tragedy is heart wrenching, terrifying and incomprehensible, and so are last week's revelations about the shooter ("Police say Columbia mall shooter wanted to mimic Columbine," March 12).

Here was a young man developing a serious mental illness with psychosis who kept the symptoms of his illness hidden from almost everyone around him. Because of this, the lives of two innocent young people were lost, along with the life of the shooter. We are all left wondering what can be done to prevent similar tragedies.

It is incumbent on each of us to better understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness so that individuals can be engaged in care as early as possible. The O'Malley administration took decisive action to educate the public with the Mental Hygiene Administration's leading role in bringing Mental Health First Aid training to the United States. MHFA is international certification like CPR that has become the standard in more than 15 countries.

Another new initiative funded in the governor's budget last year is the Maryland Early Intervention Program. This program is built on a number of recent scientific advances in the treatment of mental disorders characterized by psychosis. The studies provide strong support for a fundamental shift in the way that treatment is provided.

Rather than waiting until a disorder is established before treating it, the new framework involves early detection and intervention using tools that now exist to identify young people who are at clinical high risk for, or are in the initial stages of, a mental disorder with psychosis. This is the time when voluntary engagement efforts are most likely to succeed.

The earlier treatment begins, the greater the likelihood that the course of illness can be altered, its severity reduced and recovery attained. The Maryland Psychiatric Research Center is charting new territory with this evidence-based program in the Baltimore area, and the goal is creation of EIP centers throughout the state.

Linda Raines, Lutherville

The writer is chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Maryland.

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