After losing his son to suicide, this Virginia senator knew he needed to act.
Sen. Creigh Deeds of Virginia understands the importance of mental health care better than most.
In the midst of a mental health crisis, he was stabbed by his son Gus 13 times on Nov. 19, 2013, before Gus shot himself and died by suicide. Deeds survived the attack, dumbfounded by what happened.
The day before the incident, a judge had issued an emergency custody order to place Gus in a mental health facility. But due to a bed shortage, he was released after just six hours.
It was a tragedy — and one that should have been prevented. Gus and his father were close. During Deeds' 2009 run for governor, Gus was a mainstay at Deeds' campaign events. His violent outburst seemed out of character to everyone, including Deeds.
Deeds hugs his son on election night 2009. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.
In the wake of his son's death, Deeds set out to fix Virginia's mental health system — and this July, a law he championed went into effect.
Virginia and New York have both enacted legislation to require schools to include mental health-related issues as part of physical education and health courses. Virginia will mandate the development of a mental health curriculum for high schools, while New York will require it to be covered throughout K-12 classes.
In 2014, Deeds introduced a bill to double the maximum amount of time people could be held on emergency custody orders (12 hours, up from six), as well as creating a more streamlined communications process between law enforcement and local community services boards. That bill was signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we don't devote nearly enough resources to it.
The overwhelming majority of people who struggle with mental health problems won't commit a violent act like Gus Deeds. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators.
It's worth noting this because the stereotype of mentally ill people committing horrific acts of violence is prevalent and reinforces stigma surrounding it, putting barriers up to people who might otherwise seek help. (Obviously, as Gus Deeds' situation shows, this isn't to say that no people with mental illness will commit crimes.)
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teens and young adults live with one or more mental health conditions. Half of those will have developed it by the age of 14.
If we want to do more about this issue, we need people to feel safe and comfortable asking for help. The answer isn't to lock people away, but to try to intervene in conditions that only get worse over time.
Working mental health education into school curricula is one small step toward eliminating stigma.