What can be done for the mentally ill? Advocates say there’s “a long way to go”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The officer-involved shooting in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 30th has highlighted the need for help for those who suffer from mental health issues. Now, the question is, what can be done to ensure both the safety of the public, and the safety of people suffering from mental health issues?

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said in a news conference one day after the shooting: "We are not doing enough for the mentally ill."

Flynn made the statement after identifying the man shot and killed by a police officer at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 30th. That suspect is 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton.

Chief Flynn on Thursday made a plea for the community to step up following the shooting -- when it comes to getting those who suffer from mental health issues the treatment they need.

Chief Flynn says what transpired with Hamilton, who suffered from schizophrenia highlights a need for change.

Chief Flynn says Hamilton's mental illness can be directly connected to his mental health issues -- and says Hamilton's case isn't the only case involving an individual with mental illness who became violent, combative, and a threat to the public and his officers.

Flynn says the system in place to help people like Hamilton, who suffer from mental illness, is failing. That’s putting both police officers and the public in danger.

"Mental health is an illness that has been neglected for decades, across the country, across our state and across our community," said state Representative, Sandy Pasch.

Rep. Pasch has been advocating to change that. She is also a mental health nurse.

"It involves recognizing that it's a problem, recognizing that it affects all of us and being willing to invest money into it and being willing to invest human concern into it," said Rep. Pasch.

Pasch says laws are creating change, but that is not enough. The solutions need to be at every single level.

"We have made some incremental steps, but we still have a long way to go," said Barbara Beckert, director of Disability Rights Wisconsin.

Beckert says the problems are in funding, and access to community support.

"Let's look at how we can divert more people with mental illness from the criminal justice system by providing access to services and support up front," said Beckert.

"We have to start getting people to talk about it and embrace that it's a serious problem," said Pasch.

Governor Walker recently signed several mental health bills into law. One deals with more funding for crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers.

Both Pasch and Beckert say that aspect is critical.

1 Comment

  • haroldamaio

    “the” mentally ill

    “The” mentally ill is a red herring, as was “the” Blacks. Both are intended to mislead. Both are caricature.

    Few of us will have contact with law enforcement. That does not diminish the problem for that small minority of us that does. We have deliberately put in place a system that ignores their needs. I see no indication that will change.

    “We have to start getting people to talk about it and embrace that it’s a serious problem,” said Pasch.

    Never have we “talked” more. The talk has not led anywhere.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

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