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Guns, Guns--How About Mental Health?

The media-political herd is following the issue of gun control in a non-stop fashion, but not one of the national proposals under discussion would have prevented the killings in Newtown. In other words, the gun debate--long suppressed because liberals thought it was one that lacked political support--is now the panacea for gun related violence. There is a side-show or two about violent video games, films and TV, but that's about it.

What we still lack is any concentration on the issue of mental health. Almost all the killers we see on the news are mentally disturbed people. But when you bring up this topic it seems that people want to dismiss it.

How can you "stigmatize" anyone who is mentally ill, blaming them for the killings of a few? The answer is that society should not stigmatize any group, but if liberals want gun controls for everyone, why can't they at least accept it for the seriously mentally ill?

Second, why is there so little media interest in the intiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado--a Democrat--to "do a better job identifyng and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others"?

According the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, Hickenlooper's office has "developed a detailed $18.5 million plan to modernize civil committment laws while expanding community-based mental health treatment."

Reforming the 1970s "reform" that desinstitutionalized the mentally ill should be a high priority for state governments, since it is unlikely to get traction under the current national government. Start by acknowledging that some good came of the reforms that responded to the Francis Farmer case and the book and film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Many--indeed, most--of the kinds of people who were placed uwillingly in institutions fifty years ago are better cared for today.

However, there are about 5 percent or so who are dangerous to themselves and/or others and are not getting proper treatment today. A few of them show up in headlines as killers. Frequently the parents of such persons complain that they were unable to intervene to help their off-spring or to spare society a dangerous person. Federal and state privacy rules get in the way. Even psychiatrists are hemmed in by the law today. If an individual is psychotic, why should we expect him to show competent judgement in assessing his own condition?

D. J. Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org, writing in National Review, has proposed five sensible steps: "1) Start demonstration projects of assisted outpatient treatment" like those following Kendra's Law in New York and Laura's Law in California. 2) Write exceptions into the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) so parents of mentally ill children can get access to medical records and receive information from their children's doctors. 3) End the Institutes for Mental Disease *IMD) exclusion in the Medicaid law" to give states flexibility to add emphasis to treatment of the seriously mentally ill." Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicaid block grant proposal would do this. 4) Create a federal definition of serious mental illness and require that the vast majority of mental-health funding go to it." 5) Eliminate the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA)." This agency effectively lobbies for more money and then directs it to the less serious mental health issues--the kind that proliferate in our culture.

States, as I say, probably offer the greatest potential for constructive change.

Why are we not getting this emphasis, even though nearly all the mass killers are seriously mentally ill? Perhaps because the lobby for the professionals in the field is stronger than the proponents. But if we can have a debate about guns, why not about the more focused and relevant issue of the small segment of the mentally ill population that present a danger to themselves and others? It's bizzarre that this topic--so jumping-out obvious in the recent Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona shootings--is being almost ignored.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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