Findings from the annual Commonwealth Poll conducted by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs show nearly 80 percent of Virginians think better mental health treatment and services would help prevent gun violence. More than 50 percent said there is not enough funding for these services.
The poll, released on Jan. 20, asked a random sample of 803 Virginians between Dec. 27, 2013 and Jan. 3, 2014, a series of questions related to state funding for mental health services.
Farrah Stone Graham, assistant professor in the Wilder School and the director of the survey, said she hopes the poll will be instrumental for Virginia legislators.
“I hope that this data provides information that policymakers need to feel comfortable about the decisions that they’re making and that they’re supported by our public,” Graham said.
Questions about the availability of mental health treatment following the stabbing of State Senator Creigh Deeds helped prompt Graham’s decision to include questions about funding for such services.
“We knew that (mental health treatment) was an issue that was going to get a lot of attention in this general assembly session and we wanted to make sure that we found out where Virginians were with that and how much efficacy they place on mental health services in preventing some of the societal problems that we have,” Graham said.
Jihad N. Aziz, Ph.D., director of VCU University Counseling Services, said he thinks people with mental health problems are victims of an unfair stereotype perpetuated by media coverage after events like the Maryland mall shootings.
“There is a misconception about mental health and violence and a correlation between the two,” Aziz said. “Most of the people who have mental health issues are not violent. We’re talking about anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or some other issues.”
Even if taxpayers were to pay a larger sum for added treatment and screening, Aziz said deciding how the funding is allocated is just as important.
“If you hospitalize someone, they don’t stay there,” Aziz said. “So once they get out, and they don’t get any additional treatment, they’re back in the same place that they started.”
And these are people who can afford or are willing to seek help to begin with.
“It’s the population without resources that often gets stuck,” Aziz said.
The poll found almost 70 percent of Virginians would pay more in taxes to keep mental health services going.