Thursday, December 20, 2012

Having a Mental Illness is Not the Same As Having a Gun

I'm into having a rousing debate about the state of mental health services in America, but the difference between debating guns and debating treatment for the mentally ill is immense. Guns are literally engineered to kill people. Mentally ill people are people -- with hopes, frustrations and needs. Many have been failed by their community, parents and the government. 

I know I shouldn't be shocked that the way Fox News has jumped into the mental health care debate in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings shows an utter disregard for mentally ill people as people, and instead characterizes them as ticking time bombs waiting to explode and shoot everyone in their vicinity, but it's endlessly frustrating nonetheless.

After shamefully burying the debate over gun control, Fox is now convinced the way to prevent another Sandy Hook is to institutionalize more people with mental illness.  

The tragedy in Connecticut has reopened a difficult debate over whether states should be allowed to involuntarily commit the mentally ill.  
The trend over the decades has been to release mental health patients, with a number of court cases restricting involuntary commitment. Last week’s deadly rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School exposed cracks and inconsistencies within the nation’s mental health system. Many say that until those problems are fixed, it’s only a matter of time before another national nightmare unfolds. 
Ironically, a Connecticut mental health bill calling for changes that could have taken someone like shooter Adam Lanza off the streets was defeated earlier this year in the state legislature. 

Fox News then goes on to talk about how little money is given to states to help people with mental disabilities (most of whom are not psycho killers). But it's because of Fox News's RELENTLESS focus on government-expenditures-as-the-root-of-all-evil that makes it harder for states to pass comprehensive mental health reform in the first place.

The answer is not to commit every bipolar schizophrenic person to a mental hospital. We need more money for social workers, therapists and doctors. We need to provide parents of the mentally-ill with more state support. We need well-run hospitals that can provide better care. We need people who can SPOT mental health problems that may lead to violence. And all of this requires raising taxes -- which is exactly what Fox News has been rallying against.

But now that mental illness is seen as a national security threat, Fox News believes money should be thrown to mental hospitals. It's kind of like, "Oh, now that someone blew up the World Trade Center, everyone who's brown needs to submit to a full body check." GUYS, WHAT THE FUCK.

Let's focus just a BIT on what Lanza was able to get his hands on: a GUN. Crazy people can't kill without a weapon. Demonizing the hundreds of thousands of people with mental illness in America and stoking fears of them rising up and killing everyone is just going to cause more pain for innocent people.  

Want to know why so many people suffer from mental illness? Let's look at our society. Let's look at how alienated our young people feel. It's easy to just say "lock up all the depressed / paranoid / schizophrenic people out there!!!" but much harder to take a broader look at the systemic issues in our society which may have lead to the massacre. 

And while we're doing that, let's get rid of guns for god's sake. 

If someone with a mental illness threatens to hurt themselves or others, mental health professionals should know about it. But let's stop demonizing people with mental disabilities, and making sweeping generalizations about them. The only generalizations we can really make are about guns. They're designed to kill. People are infinitely more complex. As we grapple with the immensity of the shootings, let's not jump to conclusions about the mentally ill.