In his TV speech yesterday morning, here is one of the measures the president said he will take in response to the mass killings this past weekend: “Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls (sic) the trigger, not the gun.”
Missing, as usual, were strong measures for gun control. Blame the press, blame social media, blame video games, blame hatred, blame mental illness, but don’t blame the proliferation of military-style machine guns unleashed on our country. And don’t blame the president’s divisive, hateful language or racism.
This isn’t the first time mental health has been cited as a cause of mass shootings. In some cases, I am sure mental health professionals have diagnosed mass killers as mentally ill. But it’s well known that perfectly normal people with the right motivation commit atrocious crimes.
The president speaks as if mental health professionals can ferret out individuals who pose a threat to society. False. Totally false. Mental health lags far behind medical health in diagnosing those who are ill. Family members can suffer from a serious disorder, but others in the family have no idea they are ill. Until they take their own lives, or, infrequently, take the lives of others.
If psychiatrists and psychologists have a difficult time with diagnosis, it’s a fool’s errand to assume that people with no mental health training can detect illness in someone else. In addition, mental health services nationwide are taxed beyond capacity. Those seeking help frequently have long wait times to get an appointment. With a large number of people needing help, professionals are forced to move toward drug therapies because they produce faster results than long-term counseling. Even though most experts agree that counseling is a vital part of treatment.
The fact is that if all of the people in the United States needing mental health diagnoses and treatments were to seek help, mental health personnel and facilities would be overwhelmed to the point of dysfunction. The president and other politicians talk about strengthening mental health, but it still lags so far behind optimal that there is no way it can take on the additional challenge of ferreting out would-be mass shooters.
While the shootings in El Paso and Dayton highlight the gun-death problem, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Every day, on average, 100 Americans die from guns: one-third homicides, two-thirds suicides. Included in the suicides are an average of 20 active military or military veterans. Gun violence is an epidemic.
And it is a uniquely American epidemic. Countries that have strong gun control laws experience a fraction of the killings and mass shootings that occur in the United States. We know that. Our politicians and our president know that. But they keep hiding their heads in the sand. And more innocent citizens die.