Greenwood police shooting highlights need for expanded mental health resources

GREENWOOD — A group of siblings are using their mother’s obituary to call for an end to the stigma of health issues.

Monica Vaught, 49, was killed in March during an encounter with Greenwood police. Police said she drove her car to an officer after a lengthy argument. She had methamphetamine in her system at the time of her death, according to police.

Her family say she struggled with her mental health and substance use disorder for years before her death. She was valedictorian in high school and a perfectionist.

“She always had a smile on her face. She was just a nice person overall,” Vaught’s friend Jill Harris said. “You can’t always judge someone on an action or an incident in their life.”

In her obituary, Vaught’s children paid tribute to their mother, but also wrote about the pain of watching their mother suffer in silence.

“We live in a cruel world where mental health issues are stigmatized and swept under the rug. This obituary, we pray, gives hope to someone, if only one person. I hope that more people will accept help and be open about their demons. It’s to tell people that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are people who love you with all their being and who want nothing more than your happiness. Losing our mother in this way is heartbreaking and unfathomable.

Monica Vaught obituary

“The stigma around substance use disorders and mental health issues can be stifling,” said Brandon George, vice president of recovery, advocacy and programs at Mental Health America of Indiana.

He says substance use disorders and other mental health conditions often go hand in hand, and the stigma associated with these issues makes it harder for people to seek treatment.

“Often people prefer to deal with the consequences of their mental health issue rather than the effects of the stigma that will be inflicted on them by organisations, the community and individuals,” George said.

Experts believe that after two years of COVID-19, we could be on the brink of a major mental health crisis, and it’s a matter of public safety to provide more support for those in crisis.

“Just because someone has a substance use disorder or a mental health condition doesn’t automatically mean they’re a risk to public safety,” George said. “Sometimes situations arise where there’s an element of public safety. And I think we have to be honest about that conversation. How do you get someone the help they need while still protecting everyone?”

But he says there is hope. The National Suicide Hotline, 9-8-8, will launch this summer, and work is already underway to expand it to other services.

“Indiana is really trying to come up with a better system for this kind of situation,” George said.

“I really hope this incident helps wake people up to the need for more mental health awareness and just holistic support for people in crisis,” Harris said.

Monica Vaught had three children. His funeral took place in April and the family asked for donations to be made to the National Alliance for Mental Health.

Read the full obituary on the Swartz Family Community Mortuary and Memorial Center website.