Access to mental health can help in preventing violent tragedies

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, March 5, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- After the latest mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, President Obama has promised to make the country safer by making it harder to buy guns, but he also says access to mental health can help in preventing violent tragedies. However, getting that help can be difficult.

When you first enter the room, nothing seems out of the ordinary -- just a group of people singing and enjoying time together, but before the music started, the group was talking about situations, problems, feelings and most importantly how to overcome their own mental health issues.

"Mental illness is not a bad thing. Mental illness is not a negative," said Ann Lewis, who works at Friendship Community Center.

The center helps adults in recovery from emotional and mental disorders.

Lewis says mental illness affects everyone.

"There are people who are living with mental illness who are successful. There are people who are living with mental illness who are homeless," Lewis said.

Dr. Alex Mabe, a clinical psychologist and professor at GRU Augusta, says access to mental health across the country can be tough to get.

"Probably somewhere around 80 percent of people who have a mental illness of some sort cannot get or don't get the services they actually need," Mabe said.

And that number could be worse here.

"Especially in the state of Georgia, we have not nearly enough manpower for mental health services. We don't have enough psychologist, psychiatrist, to really meet the needs at hand," Mabe said.

That's something Lewis has experienced firsthand. She says the help is there, but you have to search for it and have patience.

"You do have to do work, and my work was making sure I made it to my appointments. Sometimes if it took a couple of hours for me to be seen, but that was OK. It was worth it, 'cause not being seen was worse," Lewis said.

And mental health experts might argue that not being seen can have very dangerous consequences.

"Never be ashamed, never be afraid, always ask for help," Lewis said.

For more information on mental illness, visit or If you or a loved one is at risk, you can call the Georgia Crisis & Access Line at 1-800-715-4225.

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