BELLINGHAM - Recognizing the signs of mental illness and helping people before they threaten public safety will be the focus of a Tuesday, Feb. 19, event in Bellingham.
The local event is being organized by Whatcom Counseling & Psychiatric Clinic.
It grows out of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 26 people were killed, including 20 young students, in Newtown, Conn. With first responders closing in at the school, the 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, killed himself.
He shot and killed his mother before going to the school.
"We want to make very clear this is about the mental health aspects of Newtown. This is not about guns. That's a whole different conversation," said Dave Kleiber, president of the board of directors for the nonprofit clinic.
Kleiber said the goal is to get people comfortable talking about mental illness, like they are talking about diabetes, for example.
"We're not stigmatized for having diabetes," he said.
If there had been appropriate intervention in Lanza's life, Kleiber said, could the shooting have been avoided?
The free event, which is open to the public, is 7 p.m. at Bellingham High School Auditorium, 2020 Cornwall Ave.
Participants include Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo; Sterling Chick, children's mental health manager for Catholic Community Services; Dave Reynolds, juvenile probation and detention administrator for Whatcom County Superior Court; and David Sager, crisis services director for Whatcom Counseling & Psychiatric Clinic.
Topics will include:
-- Recognizing signs of serious mental illness, especially in young people.
-- Providing help to troubled individuals and support to their families.
-- In times of crisis, what resources exist in Bellingham and Whatcom County for public safety and mental health treatment? Shortcomings in the system also could be identified.
Kleiber hopes the Feb. 19 event is the beginning of quarterly meetings about community mental health.
"This is an opening of a conversation," he said.
Reach Kie Relyea at email@example.com or 360-715-2234.