Locking up the mentally ill and throwing away the key is no way to solve the country's gun problem
Martha MacCallum, a Fox news host, has a rather interesting solution to the epidemic of mass shootings occurring in America: institutionalization. According to Ms. MacCallum, we have become so “PC” we refuse to acknowledge mentally ill people pose a dire threat to our safety and therefore, more of the mentally ill should be locked up. Martha MacCallum is wrong, and the fact that I’m writing this is proof.
I am a recovered borderline personality and I have been institutionalized. Many years ago, the state of Florida correctly determined that I was an imminent danger to myself and Baker Act-ed me. I was taken to an emergency mental health “facility,” where I was held against my will for 72 hours. My “room” was in fact more like a prison cell, complete with a security camera and door I could not unlock from the inside.
I was surrounded by homeless schizophrenics, teenagers in transition from freedom to juvenile incarceration and at no time did a psychologist or psychiatrist visit anyone. We were not evaluated, we were not spoken to by medical personnel. We were warehoused for 72 hours, until the powers that be (according to state law, they were psychiatrists, but again-I never saw one) deemed our “problems” had diminished to the point where we could leave.
The word institutionalize does not mean what I think Martha MacCallum believes it to mean. Perhaps (and I’m just guessing) she sees it as a private hospital where your meals are served on Limoge china, magical health insurance pays the often $1,000 or more per day fee and patients are safe, loved and cared for. What Ms. MacCallum needs to do is take a tour of a state-run mental health facility.
When a mentally ill person is institutionalized, it is not to some dreamy hospital with English gardens and a well-educated, caring staff. They are typically sent to a place I lovingly refer to as Hell. Underpaid, poorly trained employees who look at patients with contempt and anger, thus treating them as less than human. This is warehousing, plain and simple. And how does one get to that point legally. How does a person qualify to be locked up for 72 hours, or months or perhaps forever?
Again, Ms. MacCallum seems to be blissfully naive on this rather key detail. During her Fox segment, she made the strange claim that the only way to be institutionalized was to be “convicted,” presumably of some sort of crime. That claim is patently false. If police are called to a situation where a mentally ill individual is experiencing auditory, visual hallucinations, threatening to kill themselves or harm another person, the police can determine it is necessary to take the individual into custody and transport them to a mental health facility for observation and evaluation. An arrest does not need to occur, nor does the mentally ill person have to be “convicted” of a crime.
Interestingly, we currently have more mentally ill Americans in prisons than in mental hospitals. In 1980, former president Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act, which aimed to restructure community mental health programs and improve services for people with chronic mental illness. In 1981, president Ronald Reagan, with bipartisan support, passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which repealed Carter’s community health legislation and established block grants for states, ending the federal government’s role in providing services for the mentally ill. After this, federal spending for mental health dropped by 30%.
Now, before you start yelling about heartless conservatives, let me share something with you. In the days following the massacre at Sandy Hook, a liberal woman I knew on Facebook wrote that we need to “lock up all the crazy people.” Because it’s all of us, you see, every single person who suffers from manic depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, PTSD, borderline personality disorders, chronic depression-we’re all just one mood swing away from becoming mass murderers. Except we’re not.
Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Mentally ill people are not scary, we’re just normal people who have something wonky in our brains. We were abused or assaulted, we inherited our disease(s), we are damaged but not broken and we are not all dangerous. It’s easy to blame the mentally ill, or video games for the increase in mass shootings in America, but people who do that consistently leave out a rather key part of the equation. Guns.
Oh I know, if the crazy people were all locked up and violent video games were banned, no one would ever do anything like this because forks don’t make people fat so guns don’t kill people, etc. Uh huh. Look, a lot went wrong regarding the shooter at the Navy yard; no one is denying that. He slipped through many, many cracks.
The incident in the hotel should have been a big red flag, but at that time, he wasn’t an immediate danger to himself or someone else. He only complained of insomnia to the VA hospital. He had issues while in the Navy and after his discharge, was given a security clearance anyway.
We have to change the way we look at, and deal with mental illness. No more stigmas, no more shame, no more families embarrassed to admit they have someone who is mentally ill. And our government must fund mental health treatment. We need trained professionals who can ask the right questions, give the right tests and evaluate the results quickly and correctly. If we can have that, a national environment that helps rather than hurts, combined with stricter gun laws, perhaps we can get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Because Martha MacCallum, the woman from Facebook and anyone else who thinks mentally ill people should all be locked up forever… are wrong.