EDITORIAL | Mental illness needs to be seriously addressed

On Sept. 14, Shoreline professor Troy Wolff was fatally stabbed and his girlfriend, Kristin Ito, was injured during a random attack in Pioneer Square. 

Alleged attacker Donnell Jackson told police he has schizophrenia. He said, “The victim was a member of a group that was trying to kill him,” according to a Seattle Weekly article. 

There’s a sense of deja vu, since this time last month, Martin Duckworth, a man with a mental illness, shot a Seattle bus driver in Downtown Seattle. 

Nationally, Aaron Alexis took 12 lives when he opened fire at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16. It was reported that he had recently attempted to get psychological treatment from two Veterans Administration hospitals. Alexis also has a Seattle connection: He was arrested in 2004 for shooting at construction workers’ vehicles in Beacon Hill during an “anger-fueled ‘blackout.’” 

These stories keep coming up. We decry the tragedy, we post to Facebook, maybe we bring mental illness into the conversation. And then we go quiet — until the next tragedy, that is, when we start all over again. 

It is time we took a real, serious look at mental health in our city. Too often, people are left on the streets, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. We see them every day: on the bus, as we pass them on the street. Yet, they’re invisible in plain sight: It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye than face the ugly truth that is mental illness. 

We like to think of ourselves as progressive. But, in fact, Washington is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to availability of beds for mentally ill patients. The availability of beds has decreased by one-third over the last decade. In 2009, Washington was ranked 46th for the availability of beds per person. In the last five years, Washington’s Medicaid and non-Medicaid funding has been cut by tens of millions of dollars. 

Getting people to address their mental illness is no easy task, especially when most services are voluntary, as they should be. But it should be a crime when there simply isn’t enough funding to help those who do want help. 

We urge our new and continuing city representatives to make mental health a top priority. Improvement in the lives of those with mental illness means a safer and, overall, better Seattle for everyone. After all, Seattle’s mental health and safety is so much more important than trolleys and petty bickering. 

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