Talk about gun control will continue long after the current meetings and eventual recommendations are done. The real culprit seems to be the mental health of our young people. Mental health is important to safeguard our population. Adam Lanza, the young person killing 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Ct, was suffering from mental illness. Our kids are committing suicide either as a result of bullying or a lack of mental strength. Road rage takes place daily along our roads and byways.
As if those acts are not enough, we have had a string of similar tragedies that were carried out by persons with severe emotional problems: the two firefighters in Webster, New York, the movie patrons in Aurora, Colorado, the massacres at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School. Some of the perpetrators had received mental-health treatment, others had not. Unfortunately, these acts have created the perception that there is a strong link between mental illness and violence. Research has shown that the mentally ill actually have low levels of violence. And those acts of violence are usually committed by individuals who have not received treatment and who abuse drugs and alcohol.
There seems to be a criminalization of mental illness over recent years. State hospitals have closed and mental-health hospital beds have been reduced. It seems as though the criminal justice system has taken on the job of being responsible for those who are mentally ill. Of the more than 2 million people in local, state and federal prisons, it is estimated that more than 700,000 have a mental illness. In New York City, Riker's Island holds about 16,000 inmates. Of those, it is estimated that 15-30 percent have a mental illness. These folk frequently wind up with longer stays and greater intimidation from other inmates. They stand a higher risk of suicide and they rarely receive adequate discharge planning. Their return rate to hospitals or prisons is above average.
But try to get mental health care. Supposedly, Obamacare should cover this. However, none of the summaries readily available discuss mental health care although they are quite clear on providing free contraceptives. The minimum essential coverages would require approval by a panel before services would be paid for. And the use of prescriptions may be limited for those who use the state exchanges.
The Department of Behavioral Health, which will begin operations on October 1, combines the resources of the Department of Mental Health with the Addiction, Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA), a little-mentioned Health Department bureau that focuses on treating and reducing substance abuse across the city. The merger affects D. C.'s mental healthcare. It is a logical outgrowth of the understanding that mental health disorders and substance abuse are linked. Hopefully, it will lead to better outcomes.
But what about in other locations? It is left up to the states to determine how they are going to handle mental illness. For example, Alabama has cut their mental health budget by 36%. Arizona has eliminated nearly all services to 12,000 state residents with serious illness who aren't on Medicaid. Then you have California where space in state hospitals for general psychiatric patients is limited. It seems that 90% of hospital beds are used for those mentally ill suspects waiting to go to trial or for sexual predators who have completed their prison sentences.
It may help to understand that most of the multiple shootings since Columbine involved young adults with severe mental illness. People close to the killers saw out-of-touch behavior but nothing could be done until a crime was committed. Then it was too late. Signs of schizophrenia usually emerge in the late teens or early twenties. Sufferers are generally detached. They avoid social circles. They may suffer from delusions and hallucination. Additional factors might include the impact of the violence in movies and video games.
It seems like the trick in preventing future tragedies like the ones described earlier is to identify and treat people with mental illness. The state insurance exchanges should be expanded to provide ongoing care for the mentally ill. One way to fund the needed care might be to have a portion of the sales tax for firearms and ammunition go to the states and their health care exchanges.
Some people focus on guns being the culprit but a study of mass murders indicates that where there is a will to kill large numbers of people, a way will be found to do it. An arson fire in New York killed 87 people in 1990. Rodney Alcala did it one by one without the use of a firearm. And who can forget Ted Bundy? Until we find a way to help our mentally ill, whether they do it at one time or one at a time, multiple killings will continue.
The Huffington Pos