Our nation as a whole tends to stigmatize and minimize the reality and the extent of the impact of mental health issues on our country. Mental health is always on the top of the list when budgets are slashed on local, state, and national levels. Insurance companies are making excessive profits at the expense of families ability to afford services. The latest trend with insurance companies is to increase deductibles and co-pays and charge exorbitant premiums making mental health services inaccessible to many. When will we, as a country, acknowledge the negative fiscal and social impact of ignoring mental health? How many more lives must be senselessly lost for those in power to heed the call?
Certainly part of this issue is related to gun control and there has been significant discussion around that after each tragic shooting has occurred. The easy accessibility to weapons undoubtedly is something to consider. However, looking at each case the underlying issue of those who acquired guns is their emotional and mental state. The economic impact of neglecting this issue is substantial, but more importantly the cost of lives is even more significant.
I continue to hear people ask why this continues to happen --- I wonder why it doesn't happen more often, really, considering how we neglect mental health in our country and make guns so easily accessible.
Here are 3 things to consider:
1. The overall economic impact of not providing the needed mental health services. Crime rates increase putting a long term financiel burden on every state. The vicious cycle of homelessness and poverty increases resulting in higher rates of crime and violence. Research has also shown that economic inequality is directly correlated to acts of violence. The wider the spread between the rich and the poor, the higher the crime rate.
2. Mental health needs to be acknowledged, funded and recognized to be just as important as military programs. Ironically, the two are significantly linked. The suicide rate along with PTSD has increased substantially as service men and women return from war, often times with dire consequences when untreated. Examples of this including the soldier in Afghanistan who shot 16 Afghani civilians and the U.S. soldier who was accused of killing five fellow servicement at a military combat stress center in Baghdad in 2009. These are only two examples of many. The rise in the number of suicides and cases of PTSD among soldiers is staggering. A recent study showed that the suicide rate among U.S. Army personnel has increased by 80% between 2004 and 2008.
3. Untreated mental health issues beget violence, guns beget violence and violence begets violence. Policy makers have the ability to improve accessibility and quality of mental health services and to reduce the accessibility of guns. In 2009, there were an estimated 45.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States identified with a mental illness within the previous year. An additional 547,800 mentally ill people were on probation. Half of the offenders self reported mental health issues (not a formal diagnosis, likely meaning these numbers are higher).