AUGUSTA — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Saturday responded to the nation’s most recent mass shooting by renewing her call to improve treatment for those suffering from mental illness.

The Republican senator from Maine, who made the comments after a community awards ceremony at Kaplan University, said untreated or improperly treated mental illness is the common thread running through all the shootings. Collins said shootings like the one in Oregon, which left nine dead plus the gunman, seem to happen every few weeks. In almost every case, investigators learn the shooter was suffering from some form of mental illness, said Collins, who has co-sponsored a bill aimed at improving funding and access to mental health services.

“My hope is this latest tragedy will provide an impetus for the bill to be enacted,” Collins said.

The gunman, 26-year-old Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, opened fire on his English class at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, killing nine and wounding seven others. Those who knew Harper-Mercer, who died during a shootout with police, said he was a troubled loner who had studied mass shootings and expressed envy of the recognition the shooters received.

Collins said passing the Mental Health Reform Act would increase assistance for families struggling to help a loved one, like Harper-Mercer, who suffers from mental illness before they act out in violence. Families of adults with mental illness currently have few options to help that family member receive treatment, Collins said.

“It’s intended to improve access to mental health services,” she said. “I have heard horror stories from people in Maine.”

The legislation, which has the support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, works on a number of fronts, including improving integration between mental and physical health, establishing a grant program focusing on intensive early intervention for children as young as 3, creating a new national mental health policy laboratory, increasing scrutiny of mental health providers and allowing Medicare recipients to receive mental health services and primary care at the same location.

The bill would create a new position within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer grants and promote best practices for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. The position also would have oversight of a new committee established to promote research and treatment of severe mental illness.

Collins, when the bill was introduced in August, said the legislation would offer relief to the “millions of Americans” who suffer from a serious mental illness but lacks access to care.

“In the absence of timely diagnosis, early intervention and treatment for those suffering with serious mental illness, there have been tragic incidences of violence that may have been preventable,” Collins said in August.

Harper-Mercer, according to initial reports from witnesses in the classroom, targeted Christians during the rampage. Collins said she would reserve comment on the claims until investigators learned more about Harper-Mercer’s motives for the shooting.

“Those reports are very troubling,” she said.

Collins was the keynote speaker for Saturday’s Celebrating a Community that Cares ceremony at Kaplan University, which honored local nonprofits and businesses of The Marketplace at Augusta for their commitment to community outreach. The event, held in a Kaplan classroom, drew a standing-room-only crowd, including city and state legislators.

“All the organizations being recognized today understand about giving back to the community that supports them,” said Roger Pomerleau, a marketplace partner. Marketplace businesses raise more than $200,000 each year for local charities and nonprofits in addition to donating materials, space and time.

“We’re always trying to weave ourselves into the fabric of the community and give back,” Pomerleau said. “We’re going to continue to do that.”

Collins said the event was a chance to recognize many organizations and individuals who work behind the scenes to make Augusta, and the region, a better place to live.

“It’s important that we recognize those who have given back to the community,” she said. “Often we don’t take enough time to step back and thank people who make our community so special.”

Collins said Maine people have a reputation for helping those in need that goes back generations. She said the spirit of volunteering is, “central to our spirit as Americans.”

“You are truly what makes this a community that cares,” Collins said.

The ceremony concluded with a presentation by a number of teens from the Augusta Boys & Girls Club. The youngsters, all of whom wore capes in honor of fundraising running events earlier in the day, gave Collins a cape that sported a white lightning bolt splitting the letter “C”.

“I feel so powerful,” Collins quipped. “I may need this on the Senate floor.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Twitter: @CraigCrosby4