Editorial: Mental health isn’t the real problem

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Editorial Board

When mass shootings occur in the U.S., we can predict that soon the NRA and its allies will begin talking about and blaming mental illness. It is one of their favorite scapegoats used to “explain” that the U.S. has the developed world’s highest gun murder rate.

But they fail to mention that the rate of mental illness in the U.S. is not higher than the rate of mental illness in other countries. Instead, the rate of gun ownership in the U.S. is higher than the rate of gun ownership in other countries. The national minimum age to own a handgun is 21, but assault weapons can be bought at 18. Such laws can and should be changed.

The Republicans and their NRA backers say the mentally ill should not own guns. So why did the Republican Congress use the seldom-applied Congressional Review Act to nullify an Obama-led bill that would have deterred an estimated 75,000 mentally ill people from owning guns? Only a year ago, Trump and Republican legislators supported that vote because it provided easier access to gun ownership and was considered a victory for gun rights.

While saying we need more screening, warning systems and support for mental health clinics and school counselors, Trump’s proposed budget shows declining support for mental health treatment. While the multipurpose Veterans Administration gets a proposed increase of $8.6 billion to handle its broad array of treatments and services, an agency devoted to children’s mental health would receive a meager $1 million increase.

Furthermore, the budget of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would decrease by $665 million and the National Institute for Mental Health would lose 30 percent of its budget by 2019. That’s the actual support shown for mental illness in the president’s proposed budget. 

The mentally ill are overall less violent than the rest of the population. Given the funding proposed by the president, they are also unlikely to receive the medical and psychiatric care they so badly need and deserve. Richard Layard, British economist, says helping the mental ill is the best possible social expenditure in terms of creating long-term happiness for the greatest number of people.

However, the mentally ill are mentioned mainly as a distraction in the gun safety discussion. We all deserve a more honest discussion about real solutions.