NYAPRS Note: Included in yesterday’s proposals by President Obama to prevent unlawful gun ownership is a provision that would require that the names of Americans with psychiatric disabilities who use rep payee assistance to be put into the National Instant Criminal Background database. The President has had a very strong record on disability policy and his commitment to invest $500 million to enhance mental health services is another example of that. But mental health advocates are dismayed and decrying this policy that draws from the common, stigmatizing yet unfounded links between our community and gun violence. Our own Harvey Rosenthal sat down with Geoff Redick at Time Warner Cable News yesterday to discuss the issue in the following article, as well as the video linked below.
Obama's Executive Actions on Guns Draw Ire of Advocates for Mentally Ill
By Geoff Redick Time Warner Cable News January 5, 2016
ALBANY, N.Y. — As President Obama unveiled a set of executive actions against gun violence Tuesday, advocates for the mentally ill in New York rejected key parts of his plan, calling the president's actions "disappointing."
The reaction was spurred by the third platform of Obama's new stand against gun violence, regarding mental health. Under the plan, Obama is appealing to Congress for $500 million in funding for mental health treatment, to increase the workforce in that field and make mental healthcare more accessible.
However, on executive authority, the president also directed the Social Security Administration to make its records available for gun background checks, including information about people who have a documented mental illness and are unable to manage their own government benefits. Under the president's orders and federal law, those individuals will be prohibited from purchasing guns unless they successfully complete an appeal process.
Other medical entities which may have mental health records will also be allowed to release that information for gun background checks.
"We're very disappointed," said Harvey Rosenthal, director of the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). "Overall, [President Obama] has been a very strong advocate on mental health and disability policy.
"I'm very disheartened that, in the wake of all this gun violence, people with mental illnesses are targeted."
Rosenthal himself lives with a bi-polar disorder. Now a 22-year veteran of the mental health field, he says that, because of long-standing societal stigma, he failed to disclose his own mental health challenges as a young man.
"It takes an act of courage for many people," Rosenthal said.
Now, he fears those who need treatment will once again feel pressured to keep quiet, for fear of losing certain rights and privileges.
"I'm less concerned with whether people have access to guns," Rosenthal said of the debate over Obama's actions. "I'm not fighting for people to have more guns -- I'm fighting for people not to be discriminated against."
Included in Obama's presentation Tuesday was an acknowledgment of suicides. In the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control, the United States saw more than 41,000 suicides in 2013, and greater than half of them were committed by gun. Out of more than 33,000 gun deaths in 2013, nearly two-thirds were gun suicides.
"A lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves," Obama said during an East Room appearance at the White House.
Suicide prevention advocates said that, with respect to their efforts, more good than harm would likely come from any gun control measure.
"We do know that, where there is a dominant lethal means that is reduced, suicide goes down," said Dr. Michael Hogan in a statement. A Capital Region resident, Hogan is an executive member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. He also chaired a mental health commission under President George W. Bush in 2003.
"The President’s efforts would have a positive impact, but we can't say how great that impact would be," Hogan said Tuesday. "If investments are also made to make mental health care more 'suicide safe' by identifying and supporting people at risk, that would also clearly have a positive effect."
Some of the president's executive actions, such as the $500-million allocation for mental health funding, will have to go through Congress for approval.