Howard County Launches New Mental Health Initiative

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Linh Bui joined WJZ Eyewitness News in July 2013 as a weekend anchor...
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COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — In the wake of the deadly shooting spree at the Mall in Columbia, a big question looms: how do we stop this from happening again?

Linh Bui reports county officials are taking steps to stop the violence.

WJZ talked to County Executive Ken Ulman who says when it comes to public safety, a key focus is on mental health.

It’s been three months since a gunman opened fire inside the Mall in Columbia, killing two skate shop employees before turning the gun on himself.

Police say the shooter showed signs of mental illness. He was referred to a psychiatrist but never got help; he reported hearing voices a year before the shooting.

“What happened at the mall was a young man knew he was mentally ill. He knew it but he didn’t know where to go for help. He didn’t feel like he could go to his family. We’ve got to continue to break down the stigma,” Ulman said.

Ulman’s taken action. He allocated money for several new mental health initiatives in his budget proposal released this week.

“Making sure that folks in need with mental illness are getting the resources they need. I tasked my staff to look at where the gaps are,” he said.

Early intervention is crucial to closing those gaps. Ulman proposes community-based first aid training to help people recognize signs of mental illness.

It’s all about preventing future tragedies. The initiative also creates a new position within the police department: a full-time police officer who can work with calls about mental illness. Also, he’s creating a full-time position in the Mental Health Authority to help patients discharged from Howard County General Hospital.

Doctors say the funding is long overdue.

“Psychiatric services and mental health care has been in need for more funding for a long time and now we’re recognizing the importance of it for our society,” said Dr. Elias Shaya, MedStar Good Samaritan.

Another initiative in the budget: create a second mobile crisis team for mental health-related emergencies.

Ulman has allocated about $102 million for public safety in his budget for fiscal year 2015.

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