Within the past month, we dealt with back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, TX, Dayton, OH, and near Odessa, TX.
In February of 2018, when we dealt with the Parkland High School shooting that left 17 people dead, Donald Trump quickly turned his thoughts to creating more mental institutions. That was his solution to the shooting.
Fast-forward to present 2019, a year where we have dealt with several mass shootings, Congress/The Senate has not increased gun laws, background checks are not as intensive, and Donald Trump again speaks of building new facilities for the mentally ill as a way to reduce mass shootings.
Now the White House staff members are looking for ways to incorporate the president’s desire for more institutions into a long list of other measures aimed at reducing gun violence.
The Trump Administration is using Indiana as a ‘model’, where this past March, Indiana opened up a new 159-bed psychiatric hospital, which focuses on treating patients with the most challenging psychiatric illnesses and then moving them into treatment settings with the community or state mental health system. This was initiated by Mike Pence, who stated that “our prisons have become the state’s largest mental health provider.”
Not everyone is in agreement with this notion that Trump proposes. Many mental health professionals say this proposal of building more mental facilities reflect outdated thinking on the treatment of mental illness. They feel Trump’s support for new mental institutions would do little to reduce mass shootings in the U.S. and incorrectly associates mental illness with violence.
Let’s look at some factors discerning mental illness, funding, and violence:
- The number of state hospital beds that serve the nation’s most seriously ill patients has fallen from more than 550,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 38,000 in the first half of 2016, according to a Survey from the Treatment Advocacy Center
- It is recommended that Congress add $35 million for a block grant program to help states provide more community-based care to people in a mental health crisis
- Issues as a result to psychiatric facilities that need to be addressed
- Not enough hospital beds
- Huge number of people in jails
- High treatment costs
- NAMI estimates 1 in 5 American adults are living with a mental illness: Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for mental illness
- Most people living with serious mental illnesses are never violent
- According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of violence
- In order to execute Trump’s consideration of more mental institutions, it would require more federal money and loosening Medicaid’s restrictions on mental health funding. PROBLEM: this is impossible to achieve as the government is expected to run a $1 trillion deficit in the next fiscal year
Now how does mental institutions relate to mass shootings and acts of violence?? In all honesty, it DOES NOT. The problem does not lie with people’s mental capacity but the access to lethal weapons that are being used in these crimes.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute. Let’s try to understand why Trump may be coming to his conclusion of more mental institutions, without delving deeper into the effect of the mentally ill and violence. According to a 2018 study of 63 active shooters, only 25 percent had been diagnosed with a mental illness. That may be considered small, but the percentage extracted from the study is actually higher than the percentage of the general population, 18 percent.
Now lets look at the mass shooters of this past month:
- El Paso, TX shooter: had no mental illness
- Dayton, OH shooter: had evidence of mental health illness (was caught with mental health receipts and was found with mental health drugs in his system/autopsy)
- Odessa, TX shooter: had mental illness (bought gun in private sale, after ban due to mental illness)
If we examine just these three cases, 2/3 or 66.6 percent were associated with a mental health illness. So this example would support Trump’s solution of creating more mental institutions. HOWEVER, could these perpetrators have shown enough warning signs that would have put them in a mental institution before committing the act?
Yes, I agree that mental health needs more attention, but YES I also feel we need to fix the broken system of our psychiatric institutions and their recidivism rates that have the same patients returning with the same or new diagnoses or committing more heinous crimes.
I’ll close with a saying by Marvin Swartz: “even if society were to cure serious mental illness, total violence would decline by only about 4 percent.”
It is up to us as a society to act, see the warning signs and red flags, and find more holistic solutions to addressing issues that are presented as mental health concerns, and maybe, just maybe the violence can be diminished with time.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS???