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Since Accent Signage Shooting, Big Strides In Mental Health Awareness

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A lowered flag, flapping in the light breeze Friday was the sad and solemn reminder of last year’s mass shooting at a Bryn Mawr neighborhood business. The occasion was Minnesota’s worst case of workplace violence: seven people died, including the lone gunman.

“Our son struggled for years with mental illness,” were the words of Andrew Engeldinger’s parents when they told reporters their son had refused help.

Suddenly, one man’s struggle with depression crossed the line from sanity to surreal. Engeldinger was terminated for his job performance and brought a loaded Glock 9 mm pistol to the meeting with his supervisors.

He shot and wounded Accent Signage manager John Souter. Rami Cooks, Jacob Beneke, Eric Rivers, Ron Edberg, and Reuven Rahamin, the company’s owner, were killed. A UPS driver making a delivery to the plant, Keith Basinski was also shot and killed.

Engeldinger’s violent outburst claimed six lives in addition to his own.

While the shooting focused attention on the needs for workplace safety and gun control, it also shined a bright light on the needs of the mentally ill.

“We’ve made incredible strides,” said Tim Burkett, the executive director of People Incorporated.

He says in decades of battling for better funding and acceptance for the needs for mental health programs, the tables have finally started to turn.

“I’ve been going to the Legislature for 20 years to try to get funding for community based services for mental illness,” he said. “I used to get the door shut on me.”

The mass shooting changed that. This past legislative session state lawmakers expanded help for early identification and treatment of children, including more than $7 million for school-based mental health grants for children.

They also passed more funding for housing, crisis intervention and employment for people battling mental health issues.

Still, Burkett wants to correct a troubling stereotype that too often gets attached to cases of school or workplace shootings.

“The statistics are clear that there’s no higher percentage of violence among people with mental illness than there is among people who don’t have mental illness,” Burkett said.

What’s tougher to address is tighter controls to help curb senseless gun violence. Sami Rahamin, son of the company’s slain owner, has been on a nationwide crusade.

During one hearing at the state Capitol this past session, Rahamin said, “By passing legislation we will prevent the call that’s most dreaded.”

Still, mental health advocates say they need to get where we are with heart disease, cancer and diabetes –where early intervention brings help, before problems bring pain.

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