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As we look to find ways to help prevent tragedies like the shootings in a Connecticut school and a theater in Colorado, it is important not to lose focus of one of the most important aspects of the currently developing national and legislative dialogue on this topic: Persons with a mental illness need access to good mental health care in the communities in which they live.

Further, it’s important that persons with a psychiatric disability feel there is no shame in seeking mental health care and that they will be supported in their efforts to seek healing and recovery from their illness.

There are few illnesses that carry a social stigma like mental illness. The person with the illness feels it, their families feel it, and most of us unintentionally reinforce it when we refer to persons as “the mentally ill,” identifying them by their illness and thereby diminishing the dignity of the person.

We’re all in a position to help, such as by encouraging an individual to seek help when there are signs that they are struggling or encouraging our elected representatives to propose and support legislation that strengthens community-based mental health care.

As legislation is proposed that intends to help this nation and our communities avoid the recent tragedies of gun violence that have so shaken us, we at Pathways, a comprehensive mental health treatment and rehabilitation nonprofit operating in Southern Maryland, caution against remedies based on the common misunderstanding and frequent generalization that mental illness equates to violence — it doesn’t. But it’s the violence of these events that grabs our attention when improving access to effective and responsive mental health care is badly needed regardless of news-making events.

Hopefully, the new dialogue that has begun continues, and consistent and constructive improvement to our systems of mental health care is the result.

Gerard McGloin, Hollywood

The writer is executive director of Pathways.