There has been yet another American shooting, this time a female gunman, obliterating theories of the deranged middle-aged white male, lone wolf stereotype that is often associated with such tragedies. If it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear, people kill — and the scary reality is that all types of people pull the trigger. However, there does seem to be a common theme: many of these people are highly sick individuals who lacked adequate treatment.
In a Feb. 23 article for the Los Angeles Times, the writers declare in their headline “Actually, there is a clear link between mass shootings and mental illness.” The article states that downplaying the role of mental illness in shootings is misleading. The publication’s research claims that at least 59 percent of the 185 mass shootings that occurred in the nation from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people diagnosed with a mental illness or who demonstrated signs of a serious mental illness before their attack — rates which are considerably higher than the general population.
Individuals with major mental disorders that significantly interfere with life activities “are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs,” according to article authors Grant Duwe and Michael Rocque. And the following is no secret: America is woefully behind when it comes to adequately treating mental illness.
In a 2015 article examining worldwide approaches to treating mental illness by M.D. Allen J. Frances for Psychology Today, Frances writes that “neglecting and excluding the mentally ill makes their symptoms much worse.” With America’s documented approach of neglect and exclusion, symptoms of mental illness are often aggravated, resulting in people getting sicker.
Frances names the “cumulative dehumanizing impact” of treatment for mental illness to be a constant in the United States, despite significant changes in the system. This issue began with warehousing the mentally ill in asylum facilities with despicable levels of hygiene — stripping the people of all sense of freedom and dignity. This was then renovated when it came to mental healthy reform movements, leading to deinstitutionalization, which Frances notes despite sounding great, turned out to be “an utter disaster” in America.
No longer did state governments cover the cost of treatment, leading to exploitation of deinstitutionalization “to offload responsibility and cost,” according to Frances. This kind of suspicion and mistrust of mental health treatment is apparent in the American media, noted most recently in Steven Soderbergh’s film “Unsane,” which clearly points a finger at the hospitals for mistreating perceived mentally ill patients in order to bleed their insurance providers dry with little to no care about the actual well-being of the person being treated.
Frances writes that the deinstitionalization then turned into transinstitutionalization, allowing hundreds of thousands of Americans to slip through the cracks as medications became less helpful and relief provided competed with harmful side effects. The final verdict? “Unprepared patients were quickly and ruthlessly dumped from dismal hospitals to often worse conditions in prison or on the street,” writes Frances. “The end result: The U.S. is now probably the worst place in the developed world to have a severe mental illness.”
Here is the bottom line: the United States does not have an adequate treatment system set up to help those who are struggling with a mental illness. And while many turn their attention towards gun reform — another vital conversation — the reality is that many of the shooters have dealt with or are grappling with a mental illness. Rather than slap a band-aid over the problem, perhaps we should actually treat the cause of infection.
This does not mean that if someone is diagnosed with a mental illness they are bad or dangerous. In fact, this type of damaging stereotyping only worsens the scenario for a mentally ill individual who might be inclined towards violence. Rather than stigmatizing those who suffer from a mental disease, we need to develop a system that will provide not only immediate and adequate treatment, but teach people how to integrate into the real world and cope on a daily basis with their respective illnesses. Furthermore, law enforcement needs to be more vigilant and proactive when it comes to evaluating which people are at a heightened risk for violence and how to treat them without isolating them and worsening their issues. It’s time we change.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.