From Hank Hayes in Kingsport:
Tennessee Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney says there are no quick and simple solutions to prevent a repeat of mass murderer Adam Lanza’s actions.
“The vast, vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous,” Varney, former president and CEO of Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, said when asked for his take on the Connecticut school shootings.
Killers, Varney pointed out, have more complicated mental health issues.
“Mostly what we do is try to protect vulnerable people as opposed to being concerned about them being dangerous,” Varney explained. “Obviously someone (like Lanza) who does something like this would have to be a disturbed individual. … This isn’t scientific, but evil does exist. People do evil things. There is really no explanation to it other than it is really wrong.
“I would say that the real key is recognizing when someone is displaying odd or aggressive behavior, and approach them whether it is a teacher or counselor or pastor or family member to just go ahead and confront the person and try to get them in to get professional help. … We need to take personal responsibility to deal with people we are concerned about. … We need interventions with individuals as opposed to a broad sweep of things.”
Gov. Bill Haslam recently observed that preventing another similar massacre might be better addressed through mental health services and not new gun laws.
Varney’s department, with an annual budget of about $300 million, oversees regional institutes and contracts with more than 200 community agencies to deliver mental health and substance abuse services.
“I would love to have additional resources, but the governor has to balance that against every other need,” Varney said when asked about Haslam’s observation. “He’s been very supportive of mental health services. This man really does understand people. His role as a mayor (in Knoxville) gave him a lot of on-the-job experience dealing with mental illness and homelessness. … He really does get it.”
Varney hopes Lanza’s actions won’t make people more afraid to seek help because they might be viewed as being dangerous.
“Anyone at some point in their life is going to have problems,” Varney noted. “There’s a lot of need out there. … To me, if we really want to address this, it has to be through community and individual education about mental health issues and trying to recognize people and approach them. … If someone is paranoid and delusional, it almost has to be done by someone who is close to the person — someone they trust.”
Varney’s mental health initiatives have included closing Knoxville-based Lakeshore Mental Health Institute and redistributing its budget dollars to community mental health services providers, including Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City.
His next goal is expanding drug detoxification services for those dependent on prescription drugs. Tennessee has a Controlled Substance Monitoring Database to rein in overprescribing.
“People will need detox services. … I’m a real believer in communities solving these problems,” Varney observed. “I’ve asked for money for treatment options for people who don’t have money or TennCare (the state’s Medicaid program).”