The incident and timing are all too tragic.
As our nation was preparing to honor the many military veterans who have proudly served our nation with great devotion, 12 loved ones lost their lives in yet another mass shooting, this time at a Thousand Oaks, California club. Among the dead, a nearly 30-year police veteran responding to the incident, and the gunman, a 28-year-old Marine Corps vet who had served in Afghanistan.
As in so many similar incidents, it is not unfair even at this early stage, with incomplete knowledge about the gunman, to recognize the issue of an individual faced with mental health challenges resorting to violence. In this tragic situation, the gunman’s known history also paints a stark picture about the ongoing issues our veterans face, especially those who have recently served in combat zones.
It is abundantly clear that we must do more to support our veterans after their service ends, helping to heal any wounds, seen or unseen. And for those who suffer with mental health challenges, the issue remains the same: maintain awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and making sure those who do show symptoms have access to meaningful mental health care.
An individual as well as his or her family, friends, neighbors or co-workers must be alert to mental health issues and be concerned enough to discuss them honestly and openly. It is not easy to suggest to someone we know or love that they might need help and then assist in identifying available resources. This first hard step is an essential one on the path to healing. The next step should focus on access and making sure health care happens.
Fortunately, here in southeast Michigan, there is a growing effort to integrate mental health services with core community health care, including housing support and employment assistance, especially with traditionally underserved or otherwise at-risk populations such as veterans and those with mental health challenges.
There are many advantages to this holistic approach. Mental health care is not singled out as something “different” from other types of health care, but becomes part of a continuum of care. Patients are more likely to accept care delivered in a familiar setting and for which they are one of the decision-makers. Moreover, if structured properly, the health care team has a greater incentive to work together in the interest of patients, providing a comprehensive integration of wellness services.
The situation suggested by the Thousand Oaks shooting is not a hopeless one. Our community has many outstanding veterans support services and mental health care programs with many talented, passionate providers. It’s now time for all of us to do our part and support those who often suffer silently in our community, while working together to prevent these types of tragic occurrences from ever happening again.

By Ryan Lepper, CEO
Central City Integrated Health (Detroit MI)
Central City Integrated Health (CCIH), a Federally Qualified Health Center, provides evidence-based medical and behavioral health treatment and services, in tandem with creating housing and employment opportunities for at-risk Detroit residents, including veterans and those who suffer with mental illness. For more information visit www.centralcityhealth.com.