That’s a deliberately misleading title; this isn’t about guns (go down a few posts for that). But it’s relevent to the discussion.
We’re getting a lot of talk about violence being a mental illness issue, and this is something that’s stickier than not. The idea that someone would kill another person (much less any number of people) is so repulsive to most people that their immediate reaction is “what the fuck is wrong with them?”. Clearly, something is amiss, and the easiest way for us to wrap our minds around murder is to believe that something in their brain must be broken. They’re wired wrong. Bad mix of brain chemicals. I’m not saying that someone’s mental state is not to blame, but blanketing the fault as mental illness is an easy path that doesn’t just excuse other causes but acts as another divider between “normal people” and “crazies”.
I suffer from severe anxiety and clinical depression. Every time the idea of saddling the mental illness horse as a solution to social problems comes up, it puts me on the defensive. There is a serious problem with the availibility of treatment, particularly for the poor. Medication is expensive enough, but it’s also overprescribed. Therapy is an invaluable tool for people struggling with mental illnesses on top of the difficulties everyone else faces, and yet it’s viewed as an extreme measure due in part to the stigma of treatment but largely because it’s beyond the reach of the poor. Even good medical insurance won’t cover long-term therapy; as I’ve discovered firsthand, medical treatment, including therapy sessions, for mental disorders can disqualify someone from obtaining insurance or drive up the cost immensely. Sadly, the most debilitating mental illnesses and disorders are chronic or long-term, and that’s the biggest red flag for insurance providers. My understanding is that Obamacare will address this in some fashion; my far greater understanding of pharmaceutical and insurance companies says that it will not be enough.
People can talk shit about anyone else all day long. That doesn’t bother me. These media-induced, reactionary topics do: people who’ve already made up their minds that the “unstable crazies”should be locked up, and people looking for anything to blame other than their guns, can sink their teeth into this aspect of a problem, and politicize it. That’s where the damage happens, because those politicians will find an easy mark and come up with the cheapest, most palatable solution possible.
In other words, instead of a bill to fund treatment or enable some kind of actual help for those with mental illnesses, it’s more likely we’d get one that required disclosure of medical records under a vague definition of potential danger. That would appeal to the gun lobby, the insurance lobby, the pharmaceutical lobby, the fiscally conservative folks who’d rather cut programs than raise taxes, and people who don’t understand how statistics work. The unfortunate truth is that neither of those examples would prevent anyone from ever murdering people again; a nice looking bandaid is worth more in politics than a thorough exam. But one of those would give people with mental health problems a chance, and one would increase the stigmas and fears, create yet another exploitable division between people, and encourage people to hide their symptoms rather than get help.