Aftermath of the Tuscon, Arizona Tragedy: Call for early intervention in serious emotional illness

HOUSTON, TX (January 10, 2011) – Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America mourns the loss of those killed during the horrendous tragedy on Saturday in Arizona. We extend our deepest sympathy to families, loved ones, friends and all who are affected by this dreadful catastrophe. Our thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and all those were injured for a full recovery. We are all deeply saddened by this extraordinarily horrific event.

The tragedy is another wakeup call for everyone. Details are emerging that Jared Loughner clearly had serious psychiatric difficulties dating long back, perhaps to High School. While several media reports suggest that he may have had a major mental disorder, the precise nature of what he might have had is still unclear. As details surrounding the tragedy continue to emerge, there are many potential lessons to be learned from this highly unfortunate event.

It is important to dispel several myths that exist in public perceptions of mental illnesses. Anyone can develop a mental illness. Mental illnesses are extremely common. About half of all Americans will meet the criteria for some type of mental disorder sometime in their lifetime, with first onset usually in childhood or adolescence. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorders are not a sign of weakness, but are real diseases of the brain. Delays in their treatment lead to a snowballing of suffering and decline in function. People cannot just “snap” out of mental illness; symptoms cannot be just wished away or controlled at will. Like in other medical illnesses, effective treatments are now available, both psychological and medical. Treatments can lead to recovery, facilitating productive lives. Timely assessment and adequate services for early symptoms go a long way toward preventing later, more serious problems.

Unfortunately, efforts to get Jared Loughner help had been made but were not successful; the reasons perhaps will become clearer with time. It is time to take a serious look at the lack of public understanding of serious psychiatric illness in youth, glaring inadequacies in mental health care, as well as delays in care, often for many years. Most people with mental disorders in the United States remain either untreated or poorly treated.The mental health system in the U.S is dangerously underfinanced and its infrastructure is crumbling. Many students with emotional difficulties on college campuses tend to not seek mental health services because of stigma attached to being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Negative portrayals of mental illness in the media are one major cause of stigma. Seriously mentally ill individuals can often put themselves or others in danger especially when they are acutely ill, and not in treatment. However, studies in general show that violence is actually no more prevalent overall among individuals with treated mental illness than the general public; the mentally ill are in fact more likely to be victims of violence.

The emotional toll for the survivors of the massacre and the families of the victims is huge, and the loss is incalculable. The immediate response to provide prompt grief counseling is laudable. Counseling to deal with the grief is critically needed in order to minimize long term negative consequences of the trauma.

In the aftermath of the Arizona tragedy, it is vital we emphasize the need for improving mental health services and early intervention for school and college campuses. There is no better antidote to stigma than education. Our high schools, colleges and universities need to be better educated about the signs of, and early detection for emotional disturbances, which can be nipped in the bud before they escalate into serious disasters. Proactive steps include disseminating mental health information at school orientation as well as training programs for staff, faculty, athletes, resident assistants, counseling services, faith-based organizations, sororities and fraternities. Security personnel and university operations and maintenance staff also need to be educated. Counseling centers need to be better staffed, and networked with state of the art capabilities of psychiatric diagnosis, preventive and therapeutic services.

Matcheri S. Keshavan M.D. is the Stanley Cobb Professor and Vice-Chair for Public Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry,
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and
Massachusetts Mental Health Center,
Harvard Medical School

Linda Stalters, MSN. Is Founder and Board Chair, Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America
Contact (240) 423-9432;

Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA) works to improve the lives of people with schizophrenia and related disorders.

“Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia”

A compelling documentary about schizophrenia which is coming to public television stations across the country beginning October 1, in conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3-9, 2010).

“Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia”is a look at one woman’s personal journey to reconnect with her father, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, after more than a decade of hiding from him and being unlisted in the phonebook. Delaney Ruston, a physician and documentarian, offers a rare real-world look into the myriad ways schizophrenia impacts individuals and families.

Schizophrenia is a heavily stigmatized disease – often fueled by misinformed characterizations seen in the movies or in sensational news stories – but we feel strongly that Delaney’s film can help to dispel myths and spark conversations that empower those touched by schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, to be their own best advocates.

In recognition of airing of “Unlisted,” and Mental Illness Awareness Week, we would like to offer an interview with Delaney Ruston to discuss her film and the importance of bringing greater awareness and understanding surrounding schizophrenia. In addition, Dr. Marvin Swartz, Division Head, Social and Community Psychiatry, Duke University, is also available to discuss schizophrenia from a medical standpoint. We feel that this topic will be interesting, timely and relevant to your readers.

The film’s trailer is available for download at ( / User: unlisted / Password: trailer). To learn more about Unlisted and for information on local airings, visit

Movie “The Soloist”

The Soloist is a film is based on a true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who has schizophrenia and is homeless. Jamie Foxx portrays Nathaniel Ayers, who is considered a cello prodigy, and Robert Downey Jr. portrays Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist who discovers Ayers and writes about him in the newspaper. Production of the film began in January 2008 and will be filmed mostly in Los Angeles. The film was scheduled to be released on November 21, 2008, but has been delayed to March 13, 2009, and then to April 24, 2009.[1] 


Please visit the official movie site  The Soloist

You can purchase the book through our Amazon link and help support SARDAA – Here

I had the opportunity to view “The Soloist” on opening day.  It was quite realistic for the particular segment of the population covered.  The homeless people who have schizophrenia represent about 40% of the homeless but does not represent all the people who suffer with schizophrenia.  Having said that, the very cruel situation that people with schizophrenia may find themselves in is fairly accurately portrayed in the movie.  Even more unfortunately, the reality that  jails and prisons “serve” as a cruel psychiatric “institution” for people who require and deserve 100% better care and treatment.

I would like to see some films depicting the “other side of the coin”, the positive stories of hope and encouragement.  The true stories of the Joanne Verbanics, the Fred Freses, the Moe Armstrongs and the other bright, sensitive, altruistic successful people who demonstrate the struggles and the successful coping with schizophrenia.  It takes more than “will power”, it takes people helping people, education, appropriate treatment and support.  Thank you to the heroes who work daily to succeed.

Please see Pete Earley’s comments on “The Soloist”

Welcome to The SARDAA Blog

MPj03864970000[1]Welcome to the SARDAA Blog. We plan to provide regular updates regarding, among other things, NIMH and research updates, SARDAA developments, new partnerships, and mental health related legislative updates. 

We want this Blog to be interactive, allowing for suggestions, comments and helpful offerings.  SARDAA is a grassroots not-for-profit organization offering hope, dignity and a voice for people impacted by schizophrenia and related disorders.