National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Northern Illinois University

February 21, 2008

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers its sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of the tragedy at Northern Illinois University (NIU)—which serves a reminder of the Virginia Tech tragedy not even one year ago. Our concern extends to all students affected by those tragedies, including those who live with mental illness as part of the community.

NAMI is an organization of individuals and families who themselves have been affected deeply by mental illness.  We know that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has reported that "The overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." Acts of violence are exceptional.

They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

As with Virginia Tech, we owe it to all the individuals and families affected by the NIU tragedy to find out what went wrong. We need to find out everything that contributed to the tragedy---and to act on lessons learned. It is relevant to note that in NAMI’s Grading the States report in 2006, the mental healthcare system in Virginia received a grade of D. Illinois received an F. In both states, there has been an urgent need for reform.

One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. About one in 10 children have a serious mental or emotional disorder.

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three quarters by age 24, making college students a population of high onset risk.

Yet nearly 50% of all people with a serious mental illness do not get the treatment they need

These facts are a call to action.

  • We need mental illness education programs for high school and college students, faculty, staff and parents to help them recognize and identify symptoms of mental illness and to select paths for intervention, treatment and recovery.
  • We need coordination between courts, the mental health system, families and schools.
  • Privacy laws should be carefully considered to ensure that barriers to treatment are not created and that access to information for families and other caregivers is preserved.

NAMI urges formation and expansion of campus services and supports for students with mental illness, including:

  • Easier access to campus counseling centers and expanded counseling services.
  • Better information, education, and resources to assist students in understanding how to recognize problems as well as what to do if problems exist or persist.
  • Increased support for campus resources, including student clubs and student peer support services and groups that assist in recovery.
  • We must put the needs of children and young adults first and establish a foundation for a comprehensive system that supports early intervention and treatment. As part of a broader blue print for change, starting points must also include investment in community based treatment, including assertive community treatment, and retaining access to medications and treatments that support recovery.

NAMI also calls on colleges and universities to work through education and their policies to eliminate stigma or discrimination against individuals with mental illness. Treatment works. Students today are able to thrive in college communities as part of a process of recovery. No one should ever be discriminated against because they ask for help when they need it—and receive effective treatment and support.

Additional Information:

NAMI on Campus

Northern Illinois University

Students need mental health help; NAMI Chicago proposes peer counselors

Stigma and discrimination? ASU may require students to disclose mental illness

Illinois' New Gun Law Under Scrutiny

College shooter stopped taking his medication