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Pediatric psychologist: Better access to mental health resources a must as firearms become leading cause of death in children

Mental Health America ranks Florida 49th nationally in access to mental health resources
Mental Health America ranks Florida 49th nationally in access to mental health resources 02:27

MIAMI – Mental Health America ranks Florida 49th nationally in access to mental health resources. A South Florida pediatric psychologist says better access is a must with the rise in gun-related deaths for children.

"Mental health right now seems like it's a privilege because a lot of people aren't able to access it," said Dr. Natasha Poulopoulos.  "Waitlists are exceptionally long."

Poulopoulos says we have a mental health crisis in access, coupled with increased gun violence.

Data shared by the CDC reveals in 2020, firearms were the leading cause of death for those 19 and younger.

More gun violence, more trauma.

"If you're about five blocks from where gun violence it's going to impact your mental health directly," said Poulopoulos.  "We want to minimize traumatic experiences in kids."

In 2018, the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.

It came after the Parkland shooting, which killed 17.

"Children are afraid to go to school." said State Rep. Dan Daley.  "That's not any way we should be living in this country."

Daley points to some positives of the legislation, like the red flag law.  It allows law enforcement to remove firearms from people deemed dangerous.

"You can't put a number on the number of lives that's potentially been saved in this state," added Daley.

Daley hopes for more regulation surrounding what he calls the mass shooters' weapon of choice, the AR-15 style rifle.

"We can do it responsibly and well-regulated, so you don't have an 18-year-old kid going into my alma mater killing 17 people," said Daley.

CBS News reported variations of the AR-15 were used in this month's massacre in Uvalde, Texas, at a school, at a Buffalo supermarket, and in the Parkland shooting in 2018.

Violent acts, Dr. Poulopoulos says, cannot always be viewed through the prism of mental health disorders.

"Hate is not a mental disorder," she said.  "Neither is racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia.  Those are views of the world that are dangerous and scary."

She says that mental illness does not make one more prone to commit violent acts.

"Individuals with mental health disorders are 2.5 times more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator of a crime," said Poulopoulos.

Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said Sunday that Florida's gun law "signals" what's possible on a federal level following the shooting in Uvalde, killing 19.

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