The War on Mental Health

Dalton Vogler

1/31/2013 5:05:00 PM - Dalton Vogler

The Huffington Post reported today that mental health solutions alone can't thwart gun violence.

[B]y shifting the debate away from gun control and toward mental health concerns, proponents run the risk of further stigmatizing mental illness, discouraging those who confront it from seeking professional help. "Most gun violence is just not committed by people with mental illness, were we somehow to stop violence by anyone with a mental illness -- as unlikely as that outcome might be -- we would be safer, but only a teeny bit safer. As much as these incidents attract everybody's attention and concern, they are a tiny fraction of the people who get killed in this country every year."

The perception that focusing on mental health reform will place a stigma on those afflicted is confounding. The greatest "stigma" mental health victim’s face is that they are still fighting for treatment and acknowledgement of their illness. Multiple studies and commissions have argued for an increased focus on mental health care, including Michael Hogan, head of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health:

"We see the results of insufficient mental healthcare in school failure and suicide. How do we do better?" said Hoganin written testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Addressing these gaps in mental health would help to prevent mass shootings in places like Aurora, where James Holmes met with three separate psychiatrists and displayed frequent signs of violent behavior, but no further treatment progressed. The facts also tend to get skewed a bit when discussing gun violence. Suicides, which account for nearly two-thirds of all gun related homicides barely receive discussion in today's discourse. Preventative action could help prevent a significant number of self-afflicted deaths, deaths that account for more than just “a tiny fraction”.

Why not start with stringent gun restrictions on those suffering from mental health issues? Lawmaker’s should increase advocacy for mental health, not ignore it in pursuit of gun legislation. As President Obama so infamously stated during his press conference, “if there is a step we can take that will save even one child…we should take that step."

Isn't this a step in the right direction?