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On gun control plus mental health services. December 19, 2012

Posted by Erin Ptah in News Roundup.
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There’s been a lot going around about mental illness lately, and how the service and caretaking infrastructure in the US is woefully inadequate. Some of it is from advocates for the weapons dealers, trying to redirect the issue entirely, which is, needless to say, stupid. We know gun control is significant.

Some of it is from very confused people who have apparently latched onto “autism” and “Asperger’s” to conflate them with “lack of empathy” and “more likely to be violent,” which is extremely stupid. This seems to have started with an article that went viral about a kid with violence issues, whose diagnoses included Asperger’s…and “intermittent explosive syndrome.” You would think the name of that last one would clue people in that it was more likely to be related to angry outbursts. You would be wrong.

And some of the focus on mental health is from frightened parents who are taking care of children with violent outbursts, and desperately need more support than they’re getting.

This is a more common problem than I think the public perception accounts for. Look, I read a lot about childhood trauma, a lot of blogs by parents wrangling therapists and IEPs and crisis plans. (Often adoptive or foster parents, since the kind of abuse/neglect that pushes many kids into the system tends to leave them with serious issues.) People who aren’t part of that sphere, who haven’t even read about it, tend to have no idea how severe it can get — and how underfunded the support systems are.

It’s not clear how much mass murder in the US is linked with those kinds of mental health issues. Overall, mentally ill people are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime, and it isn’t like we don’t have madmen with guns from happy non-abusive homes with no worrying medical history whatsoever. But I absolutely do not blame these parents for seizing any opportunity they can get to say “Look at us, look at this issue, it deserves to be in the public eye.”

All my scorn on the matter is reserved for the people who say “hey, let’s point the finger at crazy people — or even people with conditions that don’t lead to violence — because the stigma will be distracting enough that we can get away with selling more guns, our profit unchecked by common sense.”

And that’s my soapbox moment for the day. Time to turn the floor over to some relevant links.

Sy Mukherjee for ThinkProgress, “It’s Easier For Americans To Access Guns Than Mental Health Services

Most murders committed in the United States involve a firearm — particularly handguns. A quick search shows that a typical handgun can be purchased for anywhere between $250 and $500. A .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle — which some reports indicate was the type of firearm used in today’s attack — costs between $700 and $2000. And contrary to the gun lobby’s most ardent hysteria about Barack Obama, gun ownership has actually been rising over the past four years, as has the use of guns in violent crimes.

By comparison, access to mental health services remains spotty, its funding and beneficiary requirements subject to the whims of governments attempting to balance their bloated budgets. People often do not know when they are entitled to preventative care services for mental health, and the people who do often forgo care due to the stigma associated with receiving such care.

Rebecca Schoenkoph for Wonkette, “Sorry Everyone, Now We Are Not Allowed To Talk About Mental Health Either

It is somehow a zero-sum game between stopping violent crime “allegedly” perpetrated by those with mental illness and addressing their sad prospects. […]

Maybe Liza Long, who wrote about her violent son, is a lying monster who only cares about pageviews. Or maybe she is at the end of her rope, and her “media tour” I’m seeing ripped apart online springs from actually trying to get help for families like hers. […]

I drove to Thousand Oaks last night to have dinner with my big sister’s friends I’ve known since elementary school. Their little sister — who was my friend — died three years ago from mental illness. A woman I hadn’t met before was good friends with my other brother’s best friend, before he killed himself a year or so back. He’d been diagnosed as depressive for a long time. There were seven people at that dinner party. We all had someone who was dead. None of them got a lick of help.

Priscilla Gilman for the New York Times, “Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown

Whether reporters were directly attributing Mr. Lanza’s shooting rampage to his autism or merely shoddily lumping together very different conditions, the false and harmful messages were abundant.

Let me clear up a few misconceptions. For one thing, Asperger’s and autism are not forms of mental illness; they are neurodevelopmental disorders or disabilities. Autism is a lifelong condition that manifests before the age of 3; most mental illnesses do not appear until the teen or young adult years. Medications rarely work to curb the symptoms of autism, but they can be indispensable in treating mental illness like obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Underlying much of this misreporting is the pernicious and outdated stereotype that people with autism lack empathy. Children with autism may have trouble understanding the motivations and nonverbal cues of others, be socially naïve and have difficulty expressing their emotions in words, but they are typically more truthful and less manipulative than neurotypical children and are often people of great integrity.

Jo Hilder at Burnside Writers Collective, “Evil, Mental Illness, and the Responsibility of the Free

And about that. In Australia, since a certified mentally ill young millionaire went on a killing spree in Tasmania in 1996, we have comparatively strict gun controls. This means for us now when the mentally ill, or the criminally disturbed, or the simply very angry in our community are provoked by their inner voices or their emotions, to act out, the worst they can usually do is brandish a very sharp knife, or a very hard fist. Several mental health support workers a year in Australia are hurt by their clients in acts of violence involving knives and fists, and a few over the past few years have been killed. But our gun controls mean there are fewer guns available for mental health clients to point at people. This is a very good thing.

If the U.S.A. intends to improve mental health services without also improving gun controls, all that’s likely to be produced is a spate of gun-related deaths against mental health workers. Improving mental health services is only half the picture. The other half is making sure the availability of those weapons capable of causing immediate and widespread catastrophic loss of life is severely limited.

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