TH: Republicans Are Gunning for Mental Health Scapegoat

NYAPRS Note: New Speaker of The House Paul Ryan’s remarks that repeatedly connect mental health conditions with gun violence have, not surprisingly, raised objections across the mental health, disability and rights communities. Here’s a timely piece by Bob Bernstein of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law who agrees that such correlations are dangerous and “further demean people with mental illness who are trying to move from the sidelines of their communities and into the mainstream.”

Republicans Are Gunning for Mental Health Scapegoat

By Robert Bernstein, president and executive director, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law The Hill December 2, 2015

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says mental health legislation is the appropriate response to the nation’s gun violence problem (“Ryan points to mental health bill as response to gun violence,” Nov. 16). Without question, there are problems in the nation’s system of mental healthcare, but mental health reform will not solve the problem of gun violence in America. It is time to stop using mental health as a political tactic to divert attention away from the issue that is at the heart of the tragedies Americans face every day: the easy access to guns.

Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-Pa.) mental health bill, which Ryan presents as a solution to gun violence, has serious flaws of its own as mental health reform legislation. It completely fails as an answer to gun violence. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 33,000 firearms-related deaths in the United States in 2013. That’s more than 90 deaths a day. Only a small percentage of these deaths are attributable to people who have mental illness. And, while Murphy uses mass shootings that are sometimes associated with mental illness as a means of generating support for his bill, such heart-breaking incidents are very rare in a large epidemic of gun violence.

Even if mass shootings really were the problem, Murphy’s bill isn’t the solution. He says he’ll make us safer by making it easier to force people with mental illness into treatment. But studies show mental illness is simply not a reliable indicator that someone is prone to engage in gun violence. 

Ryan and other leaders in Congress must stop attempting to distract us from the nation’s widespread epidemic of gun violence by capitalizing on stereotypes that people with mental illness are dangerous individuals. Their tactics not only fail to meaningfully address the very serious problem of gun violence, but they further demean people with mental illness who are trying to move from the sidelines of their communities and into the mainstream.

From Robert Bernstein, president and executive director, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Washington, D.C.

http://thehill.com/opinion/letters/261884-republicans-are-gunning-for-mental-health-scapegoat