Taking the taboo out of mental illness was a vital issue Howard County Executive Ken Ulman honed in on during his eighth and final state of the county address.
While Ulman "could not be prouder" of the police chief and the community in their responses to the tragedy, he stated: "In the end, we cannot let this become the new normal."
In the upcoming county budget, Ulman pledged to allocate funds for what he called "mental health first aid training." Providers would be trained to identify, understand and respond to early warning signs of mental illness, he said.
The Columbia mall shooter, who lived in College Park, wrote in his journal that he needed help, but police said that after he told a doctor he was hearing voices and was referred to a psychiatrist, he did not pursue assistance.
At a press conference last week, Police Chief William McMahon said that interspersed with Internet searches about mass shootings on the shooter's computer, detectives found he was researching things like suicide hotlines.
"Although we will never know exactly why he didn't share his struggle, I do know that in our society, there is still too much stigma associated with mental illness," Ulman said. "Stigma takes hold when we are silent about an issue. Its grip tightens through a lack of awareness about available resources, or even how to ask for help."
To bring the issue of mental health out into the open, he said the county would put together a team of trainers to educate personnel across community agencies and institutions, particularly those dealing with children and young adults.
Ulman said he planned to create additional police positions focused on mental health as well, and he would increase the county's commitment to mobile crisis teams.
The budget proposal is due April 1 and will be subject to public hearings and County Council approval before the budget is adopted in May.
This will be Ulman's final budget proposal, as he was elected in 2006 and is term-limited. Next, he is seeking the lieutenant governorship in Maryland on the ticket with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running for governor.
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