OUR OPINION: Fargo shooting shows need for mental-health reform
Sometimes, after learning about the life of a person who has done wrong, a reader thinks, "Well, that person was foolish and cruel. Making bad choices, hurting others and never learning from mistakes add up to 'should have known better.'"...
Sometimes, after learning about the life of a person who has done wrong, a reader thinks, "Well, that person was foolish and cruel. Making bad choices, hurting others and never learning from mistakes add up to 'should have known better.'"
But that's not the typical reaction, we're guessing, to the story of Marcus Schumacher. He's the man who, after threatening his wife, "barricaded himself inside their northside home ... and allegedly fired at Fargo police officer Jason Moszer in an alley, fatally wounding him," as a Forum News Service story on Sunday's front page described.
Instead, Schumacher's story as presented shows a person "who had been falling down a deep hole of mental health problems, which likely contributed to his actions that night."
The story documents Schumacher's slide as his mental health deteriorated over the past 20 years.
That's a sequence in which it's tougher to cast blame. Because as so many American families know first-hand, mental health problems can rob people of full control over their own behavior.
But the fact that mental illness involves health, not morality, makes it an easier problem to address through policy.
And today that's happening in important ways.
Across America, for example, there's a consensus that the mental health system fails too many Americans, making stories such as Schumacher's all too common.
That's why in Washington, the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 is winning attention as a very significant reform.
Minnesota's senators already have signed on. North Dakota's should consider doing so as well.
For with eight Democratic and seven Republican sponsors, the bill seems like one of the most promising approaches so far to improving America's mental-health system.
"There has been little sign of life since the 1960s when it comes to legislation aimed at improving the mental health and addiction services in this country," U.S. News and World Report reported in August.
"In 1963, Congress passed President John F. Kennedy's Community Mental Health Act. ... Then, Rip Van Winkle?
"It's as if Congress went to sleep for 50 years on mental health issues."
The status of mental-health reform bills suggests that Congress is waking up.
In particular, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 proposes a number of meaningful reforms. The bill would ease privacy laws to let families learn more about the condition of a person with mental illness. It would restructure federal mental-health programs and elevate them in importance. It would change the reimbursement system so that hospitals could make available more short-term inpatient psychiatric beds.
Keep that latter reform in mind when you read this quote from Sunday's Forum News Service story: "In the last week before the shooting, (Schumacher's wife) Michelle said Marcus finally agreed with his family's pleas to get inpatient help. They called mental health facilities in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Grand Forks, Bismarck and other locations, but were told there were no openings unless it was an emergency; for instance, if he was trying to hurt himself or others."
The bill also makes other changes, enough for it to win the endorsement of the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, among many other groups.
The need is there, as the stories of Schumacher and so many others show. So, it's great to see the Senate advancing in the direction of comprehensive mental-health reform. If they haven't done so already, North Dakota's senators should climb on board.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald