The media and political pundits and politicians are already focusing on gun control following the massacre of children so young they could almost still be called babies and their teachers/protectors. For the sake of honesty because I do tend to be bluntly honest; I have to say that I’m not a huge lover of gun control. I tend to be more rational about it, I don’t see the need to go hunting or protect your family with automatic guns or a firearm capable of blowing through body armor. But if I didn’t have two small children, one who is the poster child for curious mind. And because I’m a responsible parent I don’t have one. Someday maybe but not now.
Gun control is always the go to hot topic after such a completely horrifying episode. And it’s something we’re seeing more and more of in the news. Gunmen opening fire in malls, church, schools and movie theaters aren’t a common everyday thing but it’s become frequent enough we now know to take the first moments of the news flash with a grain of salt, to wait for the lists of victims and to watch for the candle light vigil. And before the bodies of the dead are even removed, much less buried, the world ignites in a debate about guns and how to prevent such a mass killing again. This argument misses the real problem and danger. The one thing that’s never talked about, except in passing about how the killer was always a “little odd” and “seemed to have issues”, is mental health.
We have, without a doubt, a mental health crisis in our country. While the stigma is slowing being worn down on the mentally ill it’s still there. That stigma prevents people who are sick from going to a doctor for help. It’s seen as a weakness. If you have depression or anxiety you’re weak. ADD/ADHD is just bad parenting. Bi Polar and schizophrenia is something to fear. And thanks to ‘true crime’ shows and movies any progress being made that mental health is an illness just like any other is stymied. Even if you think you’re a rational person who wouldn’t fear someone with a mental health issue you do. In the back of your mind is that story about the crazy guy who spoke to himself and then murdered three people. Or the TV show you saw a month ago where the girl who heard voices burned down the town church. I could go on and on about how our media in all it’s forms helps to keep this idea that crazy equals criminal or dangerous in our minds.
Not only do we deal with sick people who aren’t getting help because of fear or stigma; but we deal with people who are so sick they do not know how sick they are. Remember how you woke up with that dream still so fresh in your mind that you knew it was real? Imagine that being your whole life. There are people who’s minds are so broken that they do not see reality the way the rest of us do. I don’t mean someone who believes in Area 51 or that the X-Files was a documentary. I’m talking about people who honestly think that there are people who are following them or the dolls on their dresser speak to them.
This sort of illness isn’t dangerous it’s self. There are people who live among us everyday who won’t ever live a normal life but who do no harm to themselves or others. If we’re lucky they have moments of being lucid where they realize they need help and seek it out. If they are luck they find a good mental health safety net, doctors and therapists, who can help them maintain some minimum of functional life. If they stay on their medication and continue to work with professionals on how to deal with their impulses and what to do when they are not sure what is reality and what isn’t they form relationships of friendship and family who can care for and nurture them.
The danger, the real danger in these mass shootings isn’t the gun used. It’s the gunman. The mentally ill who refuse to obtain help, who’s family’s have nowhere to turn and whose doctors and therapists aren’t able to break through too.
The mental health crisis in this country have many parts and no easy fixes or answers.
You cannot force someone to take medications, nor can you force someone into a treatment facility unless they are a danger to themselves or others. Once that danger passes, meaning the patient has taken medications for long enough they are less pron to actions of violence, they are free to choose to leave. And then choose to not take their medications. The reasons behind this are sound. We cannot force a cancer patient to undergo chemo. It’s their health and their choice.
We cannot keep someone in a hospital or other facility against their will unless they have committed a crime. And once the therapeutic portion of treatment is over often times they cannot stay even if they want too. These laws make sense too, the government can’t just have citizens rounded up and placed in locked away places. And history shows that the ability to commit someone for mental illness is prone to abuse.
If you’re an adult no one can force you into treatment of any kind unless you’ve been legally incapable of making those decisions on your own. And the bar for that is set high and generally only granted for those who are not mentally ill but who cannot function in an adult world and make adult decisions. Even if you are mentally ill you are fit to make your own decisions in most cases and taking that right away is something that isn’t done lightly.
Mental health help can get expensive and the medications costly. In most states there is no mandate to cover it. And many policies limit the amount of medications or doctor visits you can have. Even more do not cover different diagnosis and limit or totally exclude in patient treatment. Mental illness isn’t something that can be cured, meaning you can’t just take medication and your depression never returns. Mental illness is something that can be stabilized but without continuing care it won’t last.
And lastly, there is so much about how the human brain works that we do not know the gaps in treatment are vast. The sad fact is there are people who aren’t able to be helped. Either what they suffer from can’t easily be diagnosed or given a name at all or the are no medications or therapy treatments can can actually help.
In all but the last cases things can be done to fix what’s broken but in none of the cases is it something that can be fixed easily. In most cases to fix what’s broken is something that goes against what we believe in. Freedom of a human to make a choice, to not fear their rights be taken away.
What we can do is stop ignoring it. No rational human would do what was done in an elementary school on a Friday morning. The gunman wasn’t rational in any sense of the word and we need to stop looking for a rational explanation and start discussing how we can help change how we deal with mental illness in our country.