OXFORD, N.C. (WTVD) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as the town of Oxford recovers from the recent shooting that rocked a quiet neighborhood, the conversation over mental health and gun violence is intensifying.
"These events keep happening," said Dr. Robin Gurwitch of Duke University Medical Center. "The best first step we can do is to make sure we talk about them."
After the shooting in Oxford, neighbors were left wondering how the pleasant man they knew -- Jason Newton -- could snap so quickly.
"He was a cool guy," said Freka Edwards, who lived behind Newton. "You never expected that. He was a great guy. Never expected it."
Now, lawmakers are focused on increasing access to mental health resources in communities like Oxford. Recent ABC News analysis of CDC data shows 75% of rural counties in the US are considered "mental health care deserts," places with fewer than 50 providers per 100-thousand people. Congressman Wiley Nickel says more resources need to be dedicated to the growing problem.
"We need to do much more to support funding for mental health services and providers and to, you know, to recognize that mental health is equally as important as physical well-being," said Nickel, a Democrat who represents North Carolina's 13th District.
Nickel is part of the bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force in Washington, and believes more focus and funding in the fight will make a difference.
"It's tragic, but it's also entirely preventable for so many of these cases," he said. "And that, you know, again, means investing significant dollars in mental health treatment. It also means getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
Mental health experts agree, saying conversation that crosses party lines will only help matters.
"There needs to be some dialog that says where do we meet in the middle so that we reduce the risk, we reduce the threats, we reduce the potential for violence," said Gurwitch.