It Takes a Village: Treating Tragedy at its Source

Hearing the recent news about the tragic shootings in Isla Vista - which took the lives of seven young people - sparked deep sadness for me. As a public health professional, I felt tremendous frustration about the lack of progress we have made on the intersecting crises of violence and mental health in our communities. While the victims’ families grieve and begin to heal in California, a broader conversation is resurging across the country. A key point in the national dialogue is whether mental health services could have – or should have - prevented this atrocity.  

Faced with few answers, the conversation usually turns into a “forensic” assessment of the perpetrators, their family and friends, and others that came into contact with them leading up to the violence. There is a desire to understand why, how, and perhaps most importantly who could have stopped it from occurring. Then we turn our ire to Congressional gridlock.  

Unfortunately, ending violence and improving access to mental health care are systemic challenges that can’t be blamed on or solved by any one individual or institution. Progress will require new policy solutions at the local, state and national levels. It will also require constant attention, engaged leadership and long-term commitment by many people across the community – individuals, families, nonprofit organizations, social services agencies, and health care providers. 

Blue Shield of California Foundation is taking a first step toward solving this prevailing problem by supporting efforts to develop connected systems of primary care and behavioral health in the California safety net. The need for integrated services is especially great in low-income communities, where violence and trauma are part of the fabric of everyday life, rather than rare events. With these investments, the Foundation hopes to catalyze new collaborations that bridge the longstanding divide between physical and behavioral healthcare to meet the diverse needs of California’s most vulnerable populations. This will be hard work and transformation won’t happen overnight, but taking the first step toward a system in which patients, providers, and payers work together to treat the “whole person” - not just the mind or the body in isolation - may prevent tragedies like the one in Isla Vista from happening in the future.  

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