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NAMI Statement: The Nevada IHOP Tragedy; Questions to Ask

Washington, D.C.—Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has issued this statement on this week’s tragedy in Nevada:

“NAMI extends its sympathy to the families of the National Guardsmen— Sgt. Christian David Riege, Maj. Heath Kelly, Sgt. Miranda McElhiney—and Florence Donovan-Gunderson, who died in this week’s attack at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) in Carson City, in which seven people also were wounded.

Many facts are still uncertain but mental illness is considered a factor in the tragedy.

NAMI is an organization of individuals and families whose lives have been affected deeply by mental illness. We also extend our sympathy to the family of Eduardo Sencion.

Although it seems otherwise, the U.S. Surgeon General has reported that ‘the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low.’ The overall contribution of mental illness to the level of violence in society is ‘exceptionally small.’

This fact must be kept in mind at a time when so many of our troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and mental health problems themselves.

Acts of violence are exceptional. They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, often in the mental healthcare system.

What public authorities and the news media need to pursue are specific facts surrounding Eduardo Sencion’s treatment.

  • What was his full medical history?
  • Was there an actual diagnosis?
  • Where was he treated? By whom? How often?
  • Did he or his family seek treatment only to have it delayed or denied?
  • Was he hospitalized and recently discharged?
  • Was treatment coordinated among different professionals?
  • Was he taking prescribed medication? If not, why not?
  • What events may have triggered the psychiatric crisis?
  • Did his family receive education and support?
  • Were state or local budget cuts a factor? For example, from 2008 to 2011, Nevada cut its mental health budget by 17 percent—the fourth deepest cut in the nation.

NAMI notes that another tragedy occurred this week in West Virginia, where five people were killed. It has not received the same kind of national attention as the IHOP tragedy but news reports indicate mental illness may also have been a factor. The same questions raised in Nevada should be raised in West Virginia.”

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