12/20/2012 12:47 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Enough Is Enough

This past week, our nation was hit with the news of a heart-wrenching tragedy -- 27 people killed, 20 of them beautiful young children at school, presumably one of the safest places for children to learn, play, laugh, and grow.

Nightmares like the Connecticut shooting leave us shaking our heads in bewilderment and grappling with questions such as: "Why did this happen? Could it have been predicted? What can we do to make sure this never happens again?"

I say not until we find ways to make it as easy to gain access to mental health care as it is to get a gun. And not until we treat this matter as the national crisis that it is.

We simply cannot continue to cut access to mental health services and expect positive outcomes. We cannot ignore current deficiencies in our mental health and care systems. We can no longer treat Americans' mental health well-being as less important than their physical health. We must decide as a society to end the stigma against those with mental health and behavioral problems.

The reality is that we are in dire need of systemic change that includes prevention programs from coast to coast; innovations in early identification and treatments; aggressive outreach and programming for youth at risk; legitimate, non-judgmental support for parents; and open-door policies that welcome those with unmet mental health needs.

We also need mental health funding, attached to an assortment of policies so the issue is ever-present -- in school funding; in health care, thanks in part to the Affordable Healthcare Act; and in gun control via stricter background checks.

Join me in appealing to public officials and advocates on all sides with demands for action and solutions. Let's identify the true leaders that will pick up this cause. And when we feel like giving up, let's remember the beautiful little faces of the first- and second-graders we are doing this for.

For more by Michele Nealon-Woods, click here.

For more on mental health, click here.