MHA of Southeastern PA Responds to Arizona Tragedy

MHA of Southeastern PA Responds to Arizona Tragedy with a Call to Repair the Broken Mental Health System

PHILADELPHIA (1/12/11) – The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP) (  joins the nation in grieving for those whose lives were ended or forever altered by the tragedy that occurred in Arizona on January 8, and in wishing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the others who were injured a swift and complete recovery. 

“This terrible incident, which reports indicate was the act of an individual with mental health problems, highlights the need to fix the nation’s broken mental health system,” MHASP CEO William S. Dinwiddie said. “The 2003 report of the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health ( described our nation’s mental health system as being ‘in shambles’; that has not changed,” he said. “And, with the budget cuts in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, not only current services but the establishment of new, innovative and more effective services are further threatened.”

Dinwiddie continued: “We need to look at revenue enhancement and other measures to create and fund effective, comprehensive, community-based mental health services and supports that would make it attractive for people to come in and receive care and that would support them in their recovery in the community. We also must remove barriers of discrimination and stigma that discourage individuals and family members from seeking help.”

MHASP is deeply concerned that this tragedy may lead to a stepped-up demand for increased levels of forced treatment, which are unnecessary because existing laws and regulations provide for exceptional interventions when warranted. “This would be a very serious mistake,” Dinwiddie said. “Leaving aside the violation of people’s rights, force and coercion don’t work. In fact, although many states – including Arizona and Pennsylvania – have an involuntary outpatient commitment statute, most states use it only rarely, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors,” he said. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which opposes such statutes, cites a Rand Corporation review of eight states with involuntary outpatient commitment laws, which found significant problems in all eight, an MHASP spokesperson noted. Also, the high cost of ineffectual enforcement diverts resources from vital services.

It is also important to note how rare such tragedies are, Dinwiddie added, citing a 2009 study that found that only one in 14 million individuals is killed by a stranger with a mental health condition ).  According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses.”  In fact, studies show that individuals with mental health conditions are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.


MHASP also calls for stronger gun control laws and for an end to the political climate that encourages divisiveness and condones extreme behaviors, according to some commentators. “People must be responsible for their own behaviors, but none of us are well served by vitriolic rhetoric that closes doors to reasonable consideration of differing opinions and that promotes hate and intolerance,” Dinwiddie said.

The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania develops, maintains, and promotes innovative education and advocacy programs and mental health services in the five counties it represents in a culturally competent manner, also serving as a role model and technical assistance resource for state and national organizations and constituencies.

Contacts: Joseph Rogers, Chief Advocacy Officer, MHASP, 267-507-3844 (work), 267-304-6826 (cell),;

Debbie Plotnick, Director of Advocacy, MHASP, cell: 267-978-0639,