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The Navy Yard Tragedy: Mental Health Concerns

Arlington, Va., Sept. 18, 2013 — Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released the following statement concerning about yesterday's tragedy at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

“NAMI shares the anguish and anger of the nation at the Navy Yard tragedy in which 12 military and civilian people died and several others were wounded. We extend our sympathy to their families.

“Facts still are emerging, with the news media reporting some from unnamed sources. Mental health problems may be a factor in the rampage by the gunman; however, it is important not to speculate on medical diagnoses.

“Several established facts and issues are relevant to public investigations surrounding the tragedy.

“First, it has long been known that the strongest predictor of violence is past violence. With a criminal history that included two charges involving discharged firearms and disorderly conduct, questions immediately arise as to whether the gunman was ever entered into the National Instant Background Check System ((NICS) database and how he was able to purchase the gun used in the tragedy-as well as how he was able to be granted a security clearance. On that basis alone, the tragedy might have been prevented.

“Reports are also indicating that the gunman, a former Navy reservist, had sought help for mental health problems from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Although the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is small, when violence does occur it is often a signal that something has gone terribly wrong in the mental health care system. There are important issues in this case that public authorities and the news media need to answer deliberately and accurately.

  • What was the full medical history?
  • Was there an actual diagnosis?
  • Where was a person seen and treated? When? By whom? How often?
  • Was treatment coordinated among different professionals?
  • Did the gunman ever seek treatment, but get delayed or denied?
  • Was the gunman taking any medication? Was he supposed to? If he was supposed to but wasn't, then why not?
  • Was there substance abuse?
  • What events may have triggered a psychiatric crisis?
  • Did family members ever receive education and support for coping and helping him?

“Each of these questions is important not just in diagnosing potential causes of the Navy Yard tragedy, but in working to strengthen the mental health care system for anyone who needs help-regardless of any propensity toward violence.

“NAMI represents millions of Americans whose lives have been affected by mental illness. As always, we call on the President, Congress and state leaders to strengthen the mental health care system and will continue to support such efforts. In the past two years, before this latest tragedy occurred, the need for action has been especially evident.”

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope.

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