A closer look at the mental health landscape

One year later // Accent Signage Shooting

A Memorial bench outside Bryn Mawr Market honors UPS driver Keith Basinski. Credit: By Michelle Bruch

When the Accent Signage shooting hit Minneapolis last year, many eyes turned to gun legislation to provide some sort of meaningful response. But following a noisy gun debate, little changed in the state’s gun laws.

Instead, a more profound change has gone largely unnoticed — the mental health field saw a surge in state funding, particularly targeted at schools and children.

Other impacts of the shooting are harder to pin down. Chamber of Commerce leaders say companies appear to be operating as usual, without many obvious changes like additional security or mental health education.

It’s difficult for the Bryn Mawr neighborhood to return to business as usual, however.

“Everybody is still in shock. This is going to be a tough day,” said Bryn Mawr Market co-owner Paul Anderson, speaking of the approaching anniversary on Sept. 27. 

The impact on gun laws

The Accent Signage shooting touched off a heated debate on gun violence prevention. Gun permit applications flooded the state by year-end — 11,600 more than the prior year. While the noise increased awareness of gun issues, most state rules stayed the same.

A single measure that did pass the state legislature funds additional transfers of state data to the federal background check system.

The information transfer is no small thing, said Heather Martens, executive director of the gun violence prevention group Protect Minnesota. In the Virginia Tech shootings, she said, the shooter had been disqualified from owning a gun for mental health reasons by the state of Virginia. But that information never reached the federal background check system, and the shooter went on to buy a gun from a licensed dealer.

Sami Rahamim, the son of slain Accent founder ReuvenRahamim, continues to work as an advocate for gun violence prevention. He recently spent six weeks interning for MayorsAgainst Illegal Guns, a project co-foundedby New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Sami said it was a “classic internship,” and he helped organize bus tour stops and rallies, including one in Minneapolis. He said local legislators made a huge misstep by failing to pass meaningful gun laws.

“We need to come back stronger,” he said. “Representatives are too divided to see what the American people want and demand.”

Sami plans to spend the coming year in Israel, the country where Reuven was born. He’ll study in Jerusalem and TelAviv.

“It will be good to take some time and get out of my shell a little bit, and go experience the world a little bit,” he said.

The impact on mental health

One of the biggest statewide impacts of the Accent Signage shooting was felt in the mental health community.

In a typical year, staff from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) testify at the state Capitol perhaps 20 or 30 times. In the last session, they testified 70 times.

“It was pretty exhausting, but it was very successful,” said Sue Abderholden, NAMI’s executive director in Minnesota.

The state funding was largely targeted on mental health of children, and Abderholden said that’s for good reason.

“Half of all adults who experience mental illness start exhibiting symptoms before the age of 14,” she said.

New funding will allow clinicians to come in to schools to diagnose and treat children, which is something their everyday teachers can’t do. Adolescents will also see an easier transition to adulthood by retaining their case managers for longer periods of time.

“Some kids at 18 aren’t ready for the adult mental health system,” Abderholden said.

A darker side effect of last year’s focus on mental health is the stigma that can come with it.

“Only 5 percent of violent acts are committed by people with a serious mental illness,” Abderholden said. “But some are not very convinced, and that does hurt.”

Studiesshow that people would prefer not to live next door to someone with a mental illness, or work with someone with a mental illness. The stigma can make it difficult for people to confront their own mental health issues, Abderholden said.

“We don’t want people to live without treatment,” she said.

In the next legislative session, Abderholden wants to provide a way for mental health professionals to reach out to people at the request of their family members. Today, it takes voluntary participation, a full-blown crisis or hospitalization to getmedical professionals involved, Abderholden said.

Shooter Andrew Engeldinger’s family urged him to see a doctor as he dealt with paranoia and delusions, but Engeldinger ceased contact with them.

“He wouldn’t have met the standard for commitment anywhere in the city,” Abderholden said. “He had never been committed, and he wouldn’t meet the standard.”

Impact on the community

The impact of mass shootings can spread far beyond the immediate victims, according to FranNorris, a Dartmouth Medical School professor and research professor at the National Center for PTSD. Norris has studied national research on mass shootings.

“Community members resent the media intrusion, the sense that they are being blamed for the violence, and the convergence of outsiders,” she wrote in the Summer 2007 PTSD Research Quarterly. “The reluctance of some members to focus on the event, while others need to, is consistent with community dynamics observed after other types of disasters.”

After a 1984 mass shooting at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., researchers interviewed 300 women in the area throughout the following year. One-third of the women said the incident affected their lives very much — they perceived the world to be more dangerous, they felt exploited by the media, and they were greatly concerned for the victims.

Researchers also found that the community felt relief through numerous religious services and mental health support efforts.

In Minneapolis, a memorial bench outside the Bryn Mawr Market often triggers conversation about Accent Signage. The market is located two blocks south of Accent Signage, and the plaque honors the store’s former UPS driver, Keith Basinski.

Market co-owner Doug Anderson said he recently saw a local FedEx guy place a note on the bench. “Miss you buddy” was written on the envelope.

“People say every time they see a UPS truck, they think of him,” said co-owner Paul Anderson, Doug’s brother. “I think that goes for the neighborhood.”

Sami said the Accent employees are doing well, considering their heavy loss.

“We’re still healing. It doesn’t go away,” he said. “It’s an awful feeling, and it remains with us constantly.”