Mental health should be the nation’s priority target in reducing mass shootings

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

In light of one of the year’s most horrific shootings — wait, pause that.

That’s a sentence we shouldn’t have to say. We shouldn’t have to specify that last month’s Navy Yard shooting was one of the most horrific mass murders of 2013. There shouldn’t have been multiple mass murders, school shootings and bombings this year that put us in the position to have to distinguish certain events from others in terms of bloodshed, loss of life and families forever torn apart.

After last month’s Navy Yard shooting, April’s Boston Marathon bombings, last year’s Sandy Hook massacre and a slew of other national tragedies that are simply too numerous to recount, it’s an increasingly scary time for everyone. For instance, a child. A marathon runner. A moviegoer. A college student. A bystander. Anybody who’s got a lot to live for doesn’t want to think of their trip to the grocery store as a gamble on their life.

An American.

Much of the national dialogue surrounding these events has been on gun control, and far too little has involved discussion of our mental health system. Republican Senator What’s-his-name said this, Democratic House Chair John Doe said that. It’s become a ping-pong match concerning who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s dead wrong and who’s said something that can somehow be construed as anti-feminist. Such discussion is forever going to be an element of our government, no doubt about it. However, it may be argued that one of the most neglected — as well as one of our nation’s most critical — issues is our approach to providing adequate mental health care to those who most desperately need it.

Without it, an increase on gun control is a futile attempt at controlling a situation we simply can’t control.

CNN reports budget cuts of nearly $5 billion — yes, billion with a “B” — in the nation’s mental health services during the past three years. The dissolution of our mental health system is something that seems to be manifesting itself in more ways than one.

In recent years, prisons have begun absorbing more of the mentally ill who are found to commit crimes. Translated economically, this means a higher tax burden on Americans. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the average yearly cost of a prisoner for taxpayers is just breaking $31,000 per inmate.

It’s worth noting that the average cost of mental health services in prison is astronomically more expensive for taxpayers when compared to mental health outpatient services, as reported by CNN.

Many times, those who suffer from mental illnesses don’t feel comfortable admitting that they have an issue in the first place.

It’s a more abstract issue, yes, but also one at the root of our diluted perception of mental illness.

Mental illnesses, disorders and cognitive imperfections have been stigmatized in our society as the defining characteristics of a person, and it’s getting to be despicable.

Diabetics aren’t seen as simply lower-class beings with insulin deficiency. We don’t discount those who take things like beta-blockers and aspirin as lesser men and inferior women. Yet our brows rise and judgments fly when we hear that someone is seeking treatment for the mind.

The brain, like the pancreas, the heart, the bladder or the lungs, is just another organ in our incredibly complex human bodies. It serves us well on some days, and it fails us on others. Any sort of struggle with this organ, no matter how minor, has become representative of a complete lack of stability and sanity.

It’s detestable, really, especially when considering that an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans are suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Yes, it’s key to recognize that ailments of the mind manifest themselves in ways unlike our other organs. It’s the only part of our bodies that, when not functioning properly, can largely affect those around us.

Psychology senior Rima Malkan voiced her discontent with the way that seeking mental help is viewed by the masses.

“People should feel that if they need help, (they) shouldn’t feel scared or nervous or as though there isn’t anywhere they can go without being judged,” Malkan said. “Mental health facilities should advertise in a more welcoming way so it becomes a normal part of people’s lives and not a topic that is tabooed or uncomfortable.”

Thomandra Sam, outreach coordinator and staff psychologist at the Counseling and Psychological Services Center, also expressed similar sentiments.

“There is an unfortunate amount of violence in our society today. Reports focus on what’s there; if someone has a mental illness background, then it will be highlighted — failing, however, to account for the number of cases when this is void in a person’s history,” Sam said.

“It is important not to grossly miscategorize persons struggling with mental health concerns as inherently violent.”

It’s also extremely important to keep in mind that not all acts of violence are committed by those who suffer from a mental illness.

As our nation struggles to approach the daunting task of reducing gun violence, it might be in our best interest to prioritize preventative measures about post-crime cleanup duty.

It’s critical that we not stigmatize those struggling with mental disorders as inevitable criminals or lost causes — we are a nation of equals, and not choosing to help those who desperately need it just isn’t our way. Not only would this improve the quality of life for the millions of Americans that live with mental disorders, it just might return some of the joy in being a child. A marathon runner. A moviegoer. A college student.

An American.

Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]


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