American Psychiatric Nurses Association Calls for Increased Access to Mental Health Care to Prevent Tragic Loss of Life
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) calls for swift action to address factors that will increase access to mental health services and help prevent more senseless acts of violence.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association grieves with the rest of the nation over the heartbreaking events in Newtown. “As psychiatric mental health nurses, we are on the front lines in helping individuals deal with the traumas resulting from such senseless acts of violence. We are also aware of how mental health services can help identify and intervene with individuals who are at risk for such violent behaviors.” says APNA President Beth Phoenix, PhD, RN, CNS. “To paraphrase the UNESCO Charter, ‘Since violence begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.’ Expanding the availability of services that prevent mental disorders and provide effective treatment for those that cannot be prevented is essential in ‘constructing the defenses of peace’ in our communities.”
APNA applauds the American Nurses Association for speaking out about this tragedy and has signed onto their letter that identifies measures aimed at preventing such tragedies in our communities. This letter urges policymakers at all levels to:
- Restore access to mental health services for individuals and families
- Increase students’ access to nurses and mental health professionals from the elementary school level through college
- Ban assault weapons and enact other meaningful gun control reforms to protect society
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings (2010), about 20% of American adults suffered from a mental illness during 2010. However, only about 13% of American adults received treatment for mental illness and 19% of those who did receive treatment still reported having experienced an unmet mental health need during that year. These numbers serve to underline the dire need for better access to mental health treatment. While horrific acts of violence such as the recent shootings are widely covered in the media, the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives to suicide to suicide each year is an often hidden consequence of untreated mental illness.
Recently, cutbacks within schools and community health care systems have impeded critical access to school nurses and mental health professionals, such as psychiatric mental health nurses, who are trained to recognize and intervene early with those at risk for violent or self-harming behavior. These cuts have been exacerbated during the recent recession. At the same time, the demand for mental health services for all populations, including our nation’s veterans, has been increasing.
In addition to advocating for expanded access to mental health care, APNA calls for a national dialogue that avoids reinforcing the perception that mental illness commonly leads to violence and instead emphasizes the efficacy of mental health services. “When persons with psychiatric disorders commit high-profile violent acts, it is likely to reinforce inaccurate and stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness,” says Phoenix. “As mental health professionals, we must provide accurate information that combats stigma and educates the public about the value and effectiveness of services that prevent and treat mental disorders.” APNA is working in concert with other nursing and mental health organizations to develop a comprehensive strategy to provide better and more accessible mental health services in our country.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is a national professional membership organization committed to the specialty practice of psychiatric-mental health nursing and wellness promotion, prevention of mental health problems and the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders. APNA’s membership is inclusive of all psychiatric mental health registered nurses including associate degree, baccalaureate, advanced practice (comprised of clinical nurse specialists and psychiatric nurse practitioners), and nurse scientists and academicians (PhD). APNA serves as a resource for psychiatric mental health nurses to engage in networking, education, and the dissemination of research.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-42, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4667. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012. Retrieved from