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Gun violence, mental health care, and gun control.

December 17, 2012

The news of the shooting at Sandy Hook School last week was and remains heartbreaking.  The picture of this disturbed young man terrorizing and killing so many is horrifying and defies explanation.  President Obama, in his comments at the memorial last Friday, told the people of Newtown, Connecticut, “…all across this land of ours, we have wept with you.”  For the NPR story and a recording of his speech, click here.

Every time one of these tragedies occurs, people get excited about gun control.  Then as the weeks go by, interest fades.  Of course, availability of high powered semi-automatic weapons is an issue, but people often neglect the main reason people go on these rampages:  mental illness.  Over the last 20 years, I have seen improvement in mental health care availability in our country and lessening of the stigma attached to seeking such care, but we have a long way to go.  Care for chronic mental health problems is costly.  The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental and physical health.  For an explanation of this act, see this article from the American Psychological Association.  Still, even with better insurance coverage, it is very expensive to treat mental disorders.  And for those without insurance services can be quite limited and hard to come by.

Cost is a serious barrier, but the greater barrier to treatment is stigma and fear of discrimination.  Throughout my adult life I had to hide my difficulties with anxiety in order to get jobs and keep them.  Years ago I requested a sick day due to anxiety and depression and was told that “didn’t count.”  I had to take that day off without pay.  More than employment discrimination, people fear the reaction of their own family and friends.  I’ve heard so many people react indignantly when referred for mental health care, “I’m not crazy!”  Unfortunately they fail to understand that the referral was made to help improve their overall health, not label them.

The gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary displayed signs of mental illness for years before he killed all these people, judging from the descriptions of his behavior from people who knew him in high school.  I don’t know if better access to care would have made a difference in this case, but it probably wouldn’t have made matters worse.   So, as a nation, once again we mourn the victims of tragedy.  As President Obama says, “Surely we can do better than this.”

We have all been touched by this event.  A close friend in New York knows one of the parents who lost a child.  My husband’s aunt knows the grandparents of another child who died.  Compassion for the victims of this crime including the family of the shooter, Adam Lanza, is what is needed now.  I am greatly saddened by the outrageous claims of various religious fanatics around the country that this happened because of some kind of sin of the government or the people in the town of Newtown.  They are trying to turn the suffering of these people to their own advantage and political gain.  Greeting such hatefulness with resounding silence and sharing even more lovingkindness with our fellow humans is all we can do to improve this situation.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ram permalink
    March 8, 2013 8:45 am

    I hope this incident will bring to light the need for better mental health care in our school system, so they identified at a young age. I agree that the gun laws should be stricter, but we should forget about the other side of the issue.

    Ram
    Social Security Disability Help

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