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Originally published Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 4:50 PM

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Editorial: Mental-health reform to consider in light of Santa Barbara shootings

The mass murder near Santa Barbara last week demands a response. This time, Congress should put aside the gun debate and focus on mental health reform.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Finally a voice of reason from the Times editorial board. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to blame everything and... MORE
@skip k The sad part is the family being told that there is nothing that can be done until something bad happens... to... MORE
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IN the months leading up to the killing of six innocent bystanders near Santa Barbara last week, the parents of the assailant, Elliott Rodger, were so alarmed by their son’s mental health that they called both police and his therapist, seeking an intervention.

Why those pleas failed is a question that will haunt them, the victims families’ and local authorities for years to come. The pleas, and what appears to be yet another example of treatable mental illness ending in mass bloodshed, should haunt the nation.

The political response to episodes of mass violence too often gets high-centered on the gun question. Three of the victims were shot, three others stabbed to death — a fact that underscores that the problem is about more than guns.

Rational gun control — including background checks to keep firearms out of the hands of people with serious mental illness — is important. But chaining mental-health reform to gun control, a strategy advanced by Democratic leadership in Congress, has ensured neither happens.

Congress has an opportunity, once again, to break the link. The only clinical psychologist in the House, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., spent a year investigating the mental-health system after the Sandy Hook shootings, and in December introduced the Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act.

Murphy’s proposal offers sober, thoughtful and proven reforms of the nation’s crisis-response psychiatric system, which is itself in crisis. It would help ease a crisis in inpatient psychiatric care that plagues Washington state, and would allow parents, such as Elliott Rodger’s, to pierce the veil of federal health and education privacy laws with regard to mental-health care.

The House’s only psychiatrist, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, is a co-sponsor, and describes Murphy’s proposal as the biggest federal mental-reform bill in his memory. It deserves a close look from the rest of Washington’s delegation.

Given Congress’ dysfunction, reform is more likely closer to home. The Legislature in January should revisit its decision not to pass Joel’s Law. The law would allow family members to ask judges to intervene if their loved one was spiraling out of control with no other recourse.

The state and nation demand a better mental-health system, for themselves, for loved ones suffering from untreated illness, and for the potential victims of the next preventable tragedy.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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