Category: ARC-PH

News from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s Active Response Coalition student group. Feeds to: /current/arc/blog

Gun Violence and Mental Health: Too Much Has Slipped Through the Cracks

Recently, the Minnesota community was rocked by an absolute tragedy. I do not wish to add to the wounds of the family so I will not use any quotes or names. After battling anxiety and depression for what is believed to be months, a Lake Minnetonka man took the lives of his wife, son, two daughters, and then turned the gun on himself. The bereaved family buried their lost relatives a few weeks ago and what stuck out to me were the words spoken about the family. A loving family who worked hard to get where they were … The American Dream. It saddens me that we as a community have yet again been affected by gun violence.

In just the last few months, we have witnessed the radical nature that is gun violence. From a disgruntled employee who gunned down his former co-workers on live television to numerous unexplained murders that occur across our nation, we have a problem with guns. Of the 16,121 homicides that occurred in 2013, 11,208 (69.5 percent) were due to firearms. Also during this same year, 21,175 (51.5 percent) suicides were caused by firearms. The NIH published an article called “Suicide: A Major, Preventable Mental Health Problem” in which a common sign of suicide is searching online for or buying a gun. The link between gun violence and mental health can be exemplified in suicide, depression, and other mental disorders are major risk factors associated with suicide.

Are guns the issue? Are people the problem? Or is it an extremely difficult question that cannot be answered with one issue or one policy change? At this point, the rhetoric surrounding the gun control debate belittles the lives lost due to gun violence. Everyone can agree that guns in the wrong hands can cause horrible calamities. Progressive action is needed rather than arguments over whose rights are being infringed upon. Families of the Sandy Hook victims, mayors across the nation, mothers throughout the U.S., and survivors of gun violence began an organization called “Everytown for Gun Safety.” Through a variety of actions, they hope to make every town safer by preventing gun violence. A noble goal but a difficult one to achieve.

We, as Public Health professionals, have an interesting role to play in this debate. Do we choose a side and enter the debate? Or do we sit back and deal with issues we believe are more important? In my opinion, we cannot do either. We must bring to light the issue in a fair and calculated way, utilizing statistics and empirical evidence to prove a link between gun access and gun violence. Further, we must substantiate the need for better background checks so that individuals who may be suffering from mental disorders are not allowed to obtain a gun. –Post written by Jake Tanumihardjo

[This blog does not represent the opinion of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public or the members of the Active Response Coalition for Public Health, only the author.]


Legionnaires’ Disease: Are we under attack!?

In the past 10 years, the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States has gone up more than 200 percent. Recent Legionnaires’ outbreaks in New York City (NY), Quincy (IL), and San Quentin State prison (CA) have sent health departments scrambling for answers, caused state senators to request for federal assistance, and caused more than 20 deaths in just the last few months.

To date, NYC’s final infection count was over 120 people, of which, 12 had died. Quincy’s numbers are still being calculated but at this point more than 50 have been infected and 9 have died. Finally, in San Quentin, over 100 inmates are being evaluated after 7 confirmed cases had been found in their population. After an outbreak in Pittsburgh at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in 2012, six elderly veterans were taken by the disease. In just the past month, a recent outbreak at a VA in Pittsburgh has infected six people with no casualties to date.

These stories beg the question: what is Legionnaires’ disease and how do we alleviate the problem? A fact sheet on the disease posted in conjunction to this blog may answer some of your questions but what the fact sheet does not help explain is the lack of concern over the issue.

Besides a few public service announcements in NY, there has been scant national media attention on the issue. What is worse about the recent disease outbreaks is that they adversely affect the elderly and prisoner populations; groups who are uniquely disadvantaged. Elderly populations that are in the hospital are an already ailing population that has to deal with a variety of issues; Legionnaires’ disease preys upon immunocompromised individuals and those with chronic lung issues. Prison populations are at risk because they utilize the same water system for almost all water-necessary activities so if the bacteria is given the chance to grow, major issues can begin to spread to the rest of the population.

So what do we do? New statutes are being put into place in New York to register all water-cooling towers so that quarterly tests for the bacterium are completed. Violators could face thousands of dollars in fines and could spend time in jail if someone becomes seriously sick or dies.

But will these changes begin to disseminate to the rest of the states? Or will another big outbreak have to occur before other Health Departments begin to mobilize? As Public Health professionals, we cannot react to an issue, we must act now to prevent the possibility of future issues. Quarterly cooling tower checks would be not only be a benefit for preventing Legionnaires’ disease but other water-borne diseases as well. Future Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks can be prevented if we decide to work together rather than act separately. To steal Smokey the Bear’s line, “Only we can prevent Legionnaires’ disease.” –Post by Jake Tanumihardjo; edited by PJ Mitchell

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