Locking up the mentally ill and throwing away the key is no way to solve the country's gun problem

Martha MacCallum
Martha MacCallum

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%.

mental ill cartoon

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.


  1. And what pray tell do you do with the Hinckleys of the world? We almost lost Mr. Reagan that day as some mental defect tryna impress a movie actress decided he would assassinate a President and earn her admiration. By the way, he’s been let out of the mental hospital, do you think your tax dollars have been spent wisely keeping an eye on him, or will he be out to impress his next fixation?
    Look at New York City where Mayor de Blasio has decided unilaterally that mental people should be free to use the streets as urinals. Do you want your kids walking around while some mental patient relieves himself in public?
    It should be up to the families of people whose mental illness makes them prone to grab a gun and commit atrocities for whatever reason he voice inside their head tells them to do criminal actions. If the family decides that person should be locked up, who are we to disagree with their knowledgeable decision.

  2. Years ago, I was told I had to go to a facility as well, upon being in the emergency room for suicide attempt. I could choose, or they’d choose for me (which I’m sure wouldn’t have pretty). I had already experience with a hospital of this sort. I was in a locked ward, yes. There was iron over the windows, yes. I couldn’t lock my bedroom door from the inside, yes. And, yes, there was a video monitor in my room. That’s because I’d just attempted suicide! Of course they have to do this for your own safety. It is a nice facility–it DOES have well groomed English gardens, basketball courts, etc. It is a good place to be “housed” while in danger, however I have a different twist. You’d start out with zero points, which meant you had to eat by yourself until you earned points…for the rights to go out for a walk with the group, and so forth. How did you gain points? By going to the back to back group therapy sessions all day, every day…which each charges for if you go , of course. Backwards. They were taking advantage and raking in more bucks if we wanted to “earn” our way to “privileges” and out of there. People should have been forced to be outside for a walk–even if it would mean a fenced in area–that stuffy floor with no air from the windows, it was not conducive into feeling well or to get one moving. Sun and exercise need to be put in place as a healing element, not a privilege. Same with eating with others-I was in no danger of hurting anyone else-I should have been encouraged to eat with the others for the social connection rather than have to earn my way to that. I did have a doctor check on me when I also had an ear infection, but that was somewhat rare. You see, this hospital, that has people in for suicide attempt, alzheimers, drug rehab, alcohol rehab, anorexia and so forth–people on dozens of meds but NO emergency “physical” care in the hospital. One man had an allergic reaction and they had to call 911 to ask what to do! Time for mental/physical health to be realized as an interactive thing…need to be encourage for healthy lifestyle and need to have full staff of at least emergency personnel at a place like that. They kept renovating the building, restoring the gardens… I was angry my insurance wouldn’t cover it the same as in the “regular” hospital. So, I advocated stringently and Parity for Mental Health Coverage passed, thank God. Also, I was a designer, quite concerned about some of the basic egress and things there, so I shared the info with them and they DID implement some of the safety suggestions I’d made. So, it takes us all to work together. But these places need to be putting money into their staff before the lovely historic renovations…every time I was there it was a whole new staff.

  3. Perhaps things have changed a little. I too was locked up for 72 hours under the Baker Act, but my experience was a little different. I was thinking a lot about killing myself, and while I hadn’t graduated to trying it, the thought was there. A lot. I had a room that I shared with one roommate, though he was gone after the first night. I saw a psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner, and received most of a physical. There were all sorts of people in the hospital, ranging from drug addicts and people with anger management issues to one confused transgender person: me. I will not say that they cured me, but I do not think about killing myself anymore, and they started me on the path to transition, slowly but surely.

    • I was Baker Acted after leaving the emergency room. I remember my mom and one of my closest friends standing over me in a dark hallway in that horrible building in Sanford. It may have been the year, or the location, but that experience did not help me at all. Jay, I am incredibly glad that your experience was different, and you are if not okay now, getting there. My healing only began after I found the right therapist and a doctor who understood what meds help and what meds do not. Jay, from my heart to yours, I’m glad you are here to read this. Maybe writing about your own struggles would help you, and you never know-maybe help someone else. Peace.

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