Mental Health Experts Push Debate on Gun Control - 8 News NOW

Mental Health Experts Push Debate on Gun Control

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LAS VEGAS -- Caregivers of the mentally ill say the debate in Congress cannot end with background checks.

Gun control is one of many hot topics Wednesday at a national mental health conference in Las Vegas this week.

Much of the debate was the need for intervention and prevention of mental illnesses.

Doctors and therapists said they hope this is a point in the nation's history where the mental health conversation progresses and lessens the stigma for people who need help.

It wasn't until after the massacre in Connecticut, that the suspected shooter's family members reported concerns about his state of mind.

And a month before the Colorado theater shooting, a psychiatrist warned police that James Holmes was a threat.

Cases like these are being brought to light as the gun control debate heats up.

A health official at the National Mental Health and Addiction Conference said one thing is key.

"As a commissioner for one of the largest departments in the country, the issue is not just treatment but how do we intervene earlier," said Dr. Arthur C. Evans, commissioner for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

Evans said the connection between gun control and mental health is overblown.

"The reality is, that there are individuals who are at risk for greater violence because of their mental illness and we have to do everything they can to both intervene early with those individuals and make sure that people are getting proper treatment," he said.

In the case of embattled former Nevada Assemblyman Steven Brooks, there was no shooting, but he gained access to a gun despite concerns about his mental state.

American Medical Association President Jeremy Lazarus said he hopes lawmakers take a hard look at the poorly-funded system.

"We think that there are not enough mental health services in this country, not enough psychiatric beds, we have overburdened emergency rooms, with patients who have mental illness," he said.

The biggest hurdle, health officials said, is reducing the stigma associated with asking for help.

"It just can't be waiting until people are at the crisis point, but it's also making sure that we can get to people much earlier," Evans said.

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