Ed.: 022018c – Words: 1909 – Audio: N/A
Post Introduction –
After these mass shootings, and especially the shootings in schools where victims are children, emotions run very high and when talk starts about mental illness you will invariably get the “it’s all about the guns” pushback. After all, if the nutcase pulling the trigger didn’t have a gun none of this would be happening. I’ve even heard a “blame God” angle to this.. once the bullet leaves the muzzle where it goes is up to God. So I suppose there’s something or someone to blame for any season. Oddly, there’s a certain logic to each blame, but then you need to explore the practical side when trying to solve the problem. If God wants you dead and you take away the guns I am sure God will find a way to make you die if that is His plan. If we take away the gun from the nutcase pulling the trigger, he will still be a nutcase. But separating the gun from the nutcase requires a Constitutional review to make sure the nutcase’s freedoms aren’t being violated.
But our national problems are not just limited to nutcases behind a trigger and therein once we realize that we shift from judgment of their act (some nutcase shot up a school) to considering their condition that made them do the act (some kid with mental issues shot up a school) we then begin to attack the problem. Yet it’s important to remember that what I am talking about here is not just a mental health plan-of-attack for the benefit of reducing mass shootings. We need a comprehensive program to cover other very serious mental maladies plaguing the nation such as suicide (a huge category ranging from students to military veterans), PTSD with our returning soldiers from combat as well as in the public sector as a result of crimes, personal abuse, accidents, and even a genetic defect. Homelessness is basically entirely comprised of people with a variety of mental health problems. Even sexual abuse and spousal abuse falls into this. In effect, any crime has the potential of not only assigning to the criminal a possible mental health component to committing the crime, but also to the victim who could end up with mental health issues from becoming a victim.
A number of researchers have estimated that near 50% of the population could have some level of mental health problems (and that’s an educated guess given there’s so little data available) but most of those are folks who either are not aware, have very minimal affects, or can be treated with minimal effort, and even cured, and who have little or no issues with quality of life. But there is an estimated 6% of the total population with very serious mental issues. While that 6% seems manageable up front, when you assign numbers… well, it’s a huge problem. For the sake of comparison… in 1951, the year I was born the national population was 154,877,889; 6% of that is 9,292,673… a hefty number to be sure and considering diagnostics, technical knowledge, treatments that back then was not as advanced as now, and social stigmas, it’s very likely few of that 6% ever saw treatment. But when we use the 2010 census as a comparison, that 6% increases to a seemingly mammoth 18,613,971 nationwide. Now that doesn’t mean that number represents a potential threat to public safety. Mental issues evolve differently in different people; not everyone is a candidate for a mass shooting… not everyone ends up homeless… not everyone is a risk for suicide. But the numbers are there and they are undoubtedly rising each year.
The Greatest Problem With Mental Health Treatments…
In a nutshell, how far does society go in treating mental health problems in violating a person’s individual rights? And.. who judges when those rights should be removed or restricted for another person. The Second Amendment, just one of the ten parts that make up the Bill of Rights at risk in evaluating mental health issues, guarantees we have the right to own a gun, but who judges when a person is mentally incapable of owning a gun, and under what criteria? Generally speaking, it’s easier when someone commits a crime as they are tried and if found guilty a sentence can include judicially ordered restrictions on certain freedoms either for punishment, the protection of the guilty party, or for public safety concerns. So even reporting on a person with suspected mental problems does not guarantee anyone can do anything about it as it relates to his civil freedoms. This is likely the main issue when we try and cast blame on law enforcement or the FBI for not acting on these reports. (You actually want the FBI to come knocking on your door and wanting to examine your home and lifestyle because a vengeful neighbor who doesn’t like your fence on his property called them to report you as exhibiting mental instability?)
This preventative concept that’s become a phrase, “see something, say something” is fine in certain situations, like in a school environment. One student sees another student may be exhibiting some threat to the population and they can go to the school office and report to adults. In the closed environment of school and the fact that school administrators have absolute authority over children in their care, some action can be taken simply because the child is a minor with very limited Constitutional rights. But a neighbor reporting on another neighbor? Unless the authorities actually catch someone in the act of planning a violent act and having selected a target (the general reason terrorist plans can be thwarted before they occur, and the presence of bomb-making materials helps), there’s not a lot the authorities can do… at least from my vantage point.
Example… You see your neighbor running around his back yard at night, naked, and waving a pistol at the moon and screaming. You call the police, they send an officer to check it out. He finds an adult who has since cooled off, he owns a legally purchased pistol, what exactly can that officer do but file a report and move on. The potential public threat still exists. Now if your neighbor actually fired a round in an attempt to hit inside the Sea of Tranquility… that becomes an unlawful discharge of a firearm within city limits and now your neighbor can be arrested, face a judge, and then be determined to be a mental health problem, and his rights can be subject to restrictions. In fact, if it could be ascertained that your naked neighbor could be easily viewed by the causal public even in his own backyard, that in itself would have brought your neighbor into the legal process for exposing himself within public view.
It’s one thing to create a reporting process to alert authorities of a potential mental case going wild but it’s a totally different thing in what exactly can the authorities do about it. Very likely in the future we will need to be extraordinarily creative in developing an advance intervention process that delicately skirts violating a person’s Constitutional rights. This falls directly into play regarding the recent 18 year old Florida school shooter. While there’s some indication that the FBI fell short in handling an actual “see something, say something” report made over a month prior to the shooting, I am wondering what exactly the FBI would have done to change things beyond just a cursory inspection of the kid’s home and investigating if any weapons charges were applicable. Then there’s the numbers issue to all this. Remember that 6% of the population having some level of sever mental health problems? From the 2010 census, it suggests a number of 18 million Americans. Pick any percentage that you want from that number that might end up a phone call to authorities for a heads up warning. Hundreds? Maybe. Thousands? Millions? Exactly what government entity, state or federal, could even address those numbers, much less build some action case around them?
The Takeaway From This Post
Mental illness is a huge problem in the country across the board, not just with mass shootings. The seriousness is far worse than any opioid “epidemic”, any immigration problem… and currently there is NO national priority. Keep in mind that the threat to our country regarding mental health also includes making sure the passions and emotions of a crime does not let us whittle down our freedoms by passing allowable exceptions. I am including the Second Amendment as well… but there will be definite differences between some regulation for the public good that has nothing to do with surrendering the freedom. I am ok with leaving it up to SCOTUS interpretation.
Simply reporting on someone acting mentally ill does not necessarily mean “authorities” (in whatever entity form that takes) can just take that person away and the public is safe for another day.
Perhaps the most important part of this entire issue of mental health is that future treatments and scientific advancements in understanding the human brain will most certainly include some sort of behavioral modification in the not-so-distant future; mental health will continue to challenge our basic freedoms. So we can’t presume finding a workable and effective solution will be permanent.
Botton line.. it’s not gonna be easy working through mental health problems in this country.
The president should create/enhance the mental health component of Health & Humans Services, elevating it in respect to the higher national priority, giving it a similar importance as NASA was to space exploration… and set mental health goals.
The complexities in attempting to manage and treat mental health issues in American society is wide in scope, broad in context, with extensive legal ramifications across the board. This does not even take into consideration future technical medical advances in the study of the brain or future practical treatments. Given all that, my proposal would be a forming of some sort of presidential commission, task force, blue ribbon panel, or entity of equal importance and authority, made up of scientists, medical people, legal minds (especially in Constitutional law) , politicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians, and any other pertinent representatives.
This entity should be chartered to review, evaluate, and recommend to the president and Congress a national action plan toward forming a national policy regarding the treatment of mental illness to extend out five to ten years. This review should include but is not in the least limited to…
- Current diagnosis and treatment
- Current status of understanding the brain
- Scientific tools for cerebral treatments and diagnosis
- Short term advancement in mapping and understanding the brain
- Long term expectations in mapping and understanding the brain
- Treatments as they relate to civil liberties
- Protections for the patient and the general public; legal options.
- Funding sources for patient treatment
- Funding sources for scientific study.
This commission should have open access to all public resources. Deadline: 12? 9? 6? months
Within 6 months of the completion of this committee’s recommendations the president and Congress should have established a five to ten year policy to address mental health. Why 5 to 10 years? The scientific advancements anticipated in brain manipulation and treatments will likely require periodic review for ethical, Constitutional, and moral ramifications. Especially when you think about the possibility of treatment and cures that result in the changing of a person’s behavior to the point of altering memories and personality.