Mom-turned-activist on a mission to expand mental-health treatment in Washington

SEATTLE - Every time a mass shooting happens, people ask why. One Washington woman says mental illness is often times the answer to that question.

“At least half of the individuals with serious mental illness cannot know they are sick,” Jerri Clark said.

Clark says her son Calvin suffers from mental illness and help was nearly impossible to find in the private medical world.

“I called between 25 to 30 practices to try to get a doctor for my son and they all said no,” Clark said.

That’s why she says it falls on the state and if the state doesn’t pick up the cases there is no help.

Earlier this year Clark created a grassroots movement, Mothers of the Mentally Ill, and is now actively lobbying for changes to state law.

“Family members have no power,” Clark said.

Police say 28 year-old Ian Long, the war veteran who killed 12 people in a California bar, had runs in with the law. CNN is reporting that a neighbor said Long's mom lived in fear and that her son would not get help. In April, Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to a disturbance by a neighbor. The crisis mental health team decided not to detain Long. Clark says that is not surprising.

“The system is not designed to prevent violence. The system is designed to require violence. In order to be involuntarily committed, an individual has to be proven to be a danger to themselves and others,” Clark said.

But she says most states have no reasonable standards to identify when someone is a danger to themselves or others. There is no standard to determine psychiatric deterioration.

“There is very little standard with what these evaluators are looking for, you have to crash and burn, you have to fall through the cracks,” Clark said.

Clark says the state needs to create more beds for involuntary commitments and make it easier for families to get their loved ones help. Right now there are ways to get family members involuntarily committed temporarily but Clark says the process is difficult and it involves the courts.

“We have no power and that starts in the state of Washington at the age of 13, the age of consent of making medical decisions is 13,” Clark said.

Clark says the key is to provide effective mental health treatment for people in need before they reach the breaking point. The mom turned activist met with governor Inslee in June to push for more mental health treatment. She says she will continue to lobby other lawmakers to fix the system.