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Give mental healthcare reform a chance

| Monday, September 7, 2015

President Obama and many Americans alike believe gun control is one of the biggest hurdles facing our nation. Gun control policies awaken what may be some of the most influential lobbying forces on Capitol Hill: The NRA is one of the most powerful political machines in our nation’s history, and gun control activists have equally significant spending power and stamina. As a nation, we have struggled to implement effective reforms like weapon bans and background checks, and as a result gun violence continues to plague our nation. Given today’s political realities, we must pursue policies that are capable of passing. We may have finally found an answer to gun violence that can become reality.

Recently, experts and politicians have begun to champion a new answer to at least part of our country’s gun violence problem: better access to and quality of mental healthcare. They argue it will decrease gun deaths by treating mental triggers that cause gun violence. Past measures we have taken failed to attack the root of the problem.

Gun control advocates argue the label of “mental illness” is merely a distraction. On the surface, they are partially right. Mental illness accounts for very few acts of violence in the U.S., approximately four percent a year, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry. However, background checks and weapon bans have done little to curb the largest cause of firearm death in the U.S.: suicide. UC Davis reports suicides make up 64 percent of annual firearm deaths, a statistic that sadly rises each year. According to Dr. Philip J. Cook of Duke University, background checks do not decrease suicide rates. Many depressed individuals who take their own lives do not exhibit easily detected signs of a mental disorder. These people weren’t criminals. They passed background checks with ease. They were average people with a single handgun who needed help from a system that couldn’t deliver. Mental illness is not a distraction when it accounts for two-thirds of gun deaths in our nation.

Furthermore, if you look deeper, you’ll discover a seriously alarming correlation. A study performed by Mother Jones reports roughly 60 percent of those who have carried out a mass shooting in the U.S. since 1970 showed symptoms of extreme mental illness like paranoia, delusions and depression before committing their crimes. Though correlation does not equal causation, there is a strong connection between untreated mental illness and atrocious acts of violence.

Unfortunately, the rate of these incidents is on the rise. The FBI recently released a study of mass shootings between 2000 and 2013. From 2000 to 2007, there were an average of 6.4 mass shootings per year, while from 2008 to 2013, that number rose to 16.4 incidents per year. Most of the weapons used were obtained legally. As more and more of these events are occurring and more and more innocent civilians are victimized, we need to take a different course of action. Background checks didn’t stop them. Weapon bans didn’t stop them. Proper treatment for their illnesses may have.

In a time of political polarization, we need to focus on reform that will most likely help the greatest number of people. For example, take a piece of legislation entitled ‘The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015.’ Authored and introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania), this bipartisan supported bill aims to refine treatment processes, better train psychologists and increase overall access to psychiatric care that does not include incarcerating mentally ill individuals. Not only does this legislation have greater purposes than simply preventing gun violence, it also inherently targets the core cause of the violent events — mental illness. Policies such as those proposed by Murphy may be able to stop individuals from taking their own lives and treat those suffering who have the potential to hurt others. This legislative solution would also provide a much needed restructuring of our struggling mental health system.

Gun violence should not be equated with mental illness. However, mental illness at times may lead those suffering to harm themselves and others. Americans need and deserve quality mental healthcare. Let’s reorder our priorities and pursue a solution that has hope of creating a lasting impact. Mental healthcare reform must refocus from what’s in one’s hand to what’s in one’s mind. By removing guns from the center stage and therefore removing the soapbox for gun activist groups, there may be hope to see action in Washington. So, let’s give mental health care a shot.


Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies Political Science and Peace Studies along with minors in Constitutional Studies and Business Economics. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jordan Ryan

Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies Political Science and Peace Studies along with minors in Constitutional Studies and Business Economics. She can be reached at [email protected]

Contact Jordan