After what happened in Uvalde, I was listening to a Senate committee hearing about possible changes in gun management in this country. I was angered by many things I heard but one I repeatedly heard was we need more mental health care. If they had had mental health care this would not have happened. What I heard in my mind over and over is that people who have mental health issues are one step away from being a criminal. The senators I heard speak have clearly shown the world they know nothing about mental health.
First and foremost I am not a mental health professional. I am a person who survived things that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I have sought and received mental health help. I had a very successful career and am blessed with a marriage of 42 years. Most of the time I have the skills I need to function well in the world. Occasionally, I am thrown seriously off. When this happens, I suddenly find that my skills for managing my anxiety aren’t working. Once in a while, I need what RangerSir calls a tuneup. It is then I go back and seek some professional help to help me get the boxes in my mind back in order so anxiety does not take over. I suspect that most of the people I have known and worked with had no idea of my struggles. I never shared this because of the stigma of mental illness. At no time did I become a criminal.
Mental health issues have a wide spectrum of causes, from situational, to chemical or how a person’s biology is wired. Every time we have a mass shooting I hear the statement we need more mental health access. Like mental illness and it alone if treated would have prevented the killings. This is a very narrow and singular view of the world. Nothing is that simple.
We need to develop a more robust system to treat mental health conditions regardless of a mass killing. We need access to treatment when we cannot afford to pay or our insurance leaves so much copay behind that we need to choose between housing, food, or health care. We need more trained mental health providers. We need affordable pharmaceutical options. This is an everyday struggle for millions. We need to talk about this daily until it is fixed not just each time there is a mass killing.
There are millions and millions of people in this country with little to no access to mental health care and support that somehow figure out how to manage their mental health situations and none of them would even consider shooting up a school or being harmful to others. There are people who live productive amazing lives every day and go home at night and pull out all their coping mechanisms to do it again tomorrow. No one knows of their struggles. There are people who live lives, most of us would never choose, living on the streets and under bridges. They do this because they often don’t have access to the short supply of mental health providers or the medications they need. Yet as destitute as their lives appear to us on the outside, they are managing their mental health somehow. Maybe it isn’t managed well, but it is managed on some level. There are an untold number of people functioning somewhere between these two extremes with mental health issues. We never know about it because there is such a terrible stigma associated with mental health. It is reinforced every time another mass shooting occurs and access is once again connected to a horrific crime.
It seems like those people with the power to help people get access to the services they need, always tie mental health to mass killings. Mass killers are given a mental illness diagnosis from an armchair by members of Congress. This connection continues to stigmatize mental health. It takes it from an illness to a criminal element. It is an insult to the millions of people who have mental health conditions.
Lack of mental health care access is criminal, but lack of mental health care does not make us criminals.