On Friday, when I wrote about the most recent mass shooting and how it’s not actually a mental health issue, I forgot to mention one big point: the U.S. has a massive mental health problem. And by massive, I mean “we have absolutely no comprehensive plan to address most mental health issues.”
It’s a complicated issue because “mental health” covers everything from common short term bouts of depression to life long, sever conditions that also entail developmental and physical issues. It’d be like saying mass shootings are the result of “physical disease issues.” It’s a term so vague as to make it completely useless as a descriptor.
Which of course is part of the problem. If any of the people arguing that mass shootings are the result of mental health issue could at least narrow it down to violent sociopathy, that might be a place to start. But instead we lump anyone who is sort of “weird” under the mental health umbrella and call it a day.
And that indiscriminate labeling is in itself form a mistreatment of people with mental health struggles. For decades, the country’s method for dealing with people who had an sort of mental abnormality (including developmental delays) was to physically lock them in insane asylums. Which treated their patients as well as any place with the word “asylum” in the name could be expected to treat their patients. The treatment of those patients was of course horrific, but their removal from society was just as destructive. It allowed us to remove the individuals humanity, and see them not as people struggling but as a dangerous force that need to be kept from others. Labeling outrageous acts of violence as the result of “mental health issues” does the same thing. We see someone commit large scale murder, and refuse to believe that that level of hatred could be a “human” trait. And we declare them as “not human” by blaming it on mental disturbances.
The small silver lining is that this particular form of mistreatment of the mentally ill at least gives us the opportunity to address all of the other ways that we mistreat them. Mass shootings are not the result of a “mental health issue”, nor could they be prevented by mental health screenings. But we do owe both people with mental health issues and society at large adequate mental heath screenings and treatment.
Or as John Oliver puts it:
“Ok, fine. Do it then. Because if we’re going to constantly use mentally ill people to dodge conversations about gun control, then the very least we owe them is a fucking plan.”