PORTLAND – Do you know someone who struggles with mental illness? Chances are you do and you have been frustrated in trying to find treatment for, acceptance of or even support for this “someone.”

In the wake of the horror of what occurred in Newtown, Conn., we, as a nation, have been forced to revisit the concept of mental illness and violence. A good deal of research and public policy debate has occurred regarding the impact of gun violence on fellow Americans as well as its impact on our nation’s public health and welfare.

Additionally, most youth under the age of 20 take for granted the protocols of school lockdowns, drills that focus on hiding or vacating schools quickly. First responders frequently conduct training on clearing buildings of armed suspects or securing the safety of innocent people within the building. Lost within all of this is the concept that we, as a nation, have accepted school lockdown drills and police sweeps as a normal way of educating our children or deploying our law enforcement.

However, even more perplexing is the lost narrative and public discourse around the issue of mental illness and the impact that people with untreated mental illness have on our communities.

While the national debate may focus on gun control and gun violence — all important issues — the larger issue is how we, as a nation, treat the concept of mental illness.

As last week’s Portland Press Herald series (“Deadly Force: Police & the Mentally Ill,” Dec. 9-12) suggests, law enforcement is charged with the responsibility of being on the front lines of mental health intervention when things go wrong.

Yet, the larger issue of how we, as a nation and a state, wrestle with treating mental illness is lost within the tragedies and shock of unspeakable horrors that occur.

According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of the U.S. population has mental illness, and 50 percent of the U.S. population will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. That is half of the state of Maine, or about 650,000 Mainers; 93 members of the state Legislature; or 32,500 residents of Portland who will be affected by mental illness during their lifetime. Frustrating is the focus on public policy initiatives that keep mental illness in the realm of the unspeakable and restricting treatment options.

During the past 10 years, the number of people suffering from mental illness who have been disqualified for mental health and other supportive services is staggering.

Nearly 18,000 Mainers have seen their benefits reduced or eliminated. Mainers who were in treatment for mental illness, including issues of depression and anxiety, have been eliminated from the public support rolls, all under the guise of balancing budgets, determining who is deserving of benefits, and even what types of treatment are permissible.

While tragic, the issue of lax and inadequate coverage for mental health is not reserved for the public policy arena.

Most private insurance providers do not provide parity in coverage between mental health treatment and primary care treatment. Further, many primary care providers are frustrated with the lack of service provisions and providers for patients whom they treat who are struggling with mental illness.

This is not to say that people who have untreated mental illnesses are dangerous. Given CDC data that half our population will be affected by mental illness, it’s clear that the number and frequency of those who do engage and perpetrate violence is extremely low. Rather, the larger issue here is how we wrestle with providing coverage of and treatment for people who are struggling with mental illness.

Recent research demonstrates that people who are struggling with issues of mental illness score higher on issues of self-sufficiency and overall well-being when they receive case management treatment. Case management includes things such as simply checking in to see how the patient is doing, follow-up telephone calls and encouragement when things are going well.

We should fully support effective and evidence-based treatment interventions to support people who are struggling. Given the CDC data, it is clear that most of us know someone who is suffering with mental illness and is in need of support, treatment and a system that no longer stigmatizes and hides the issue but, rather, treats mental health in the same way it treats physical health: with evidence-based treatments, interventions and support.

Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin, Ph.D., is an associate professor, director of online education and co-director of the Center for Research and Evaluation at the University of New England’s School of Social Work.