JC Schildbach, LMHC
If your power was out, would you call up your dentist and cuss her/him out for not fixing your wiring? If your car wouldn’t start, would you say it was a problem for your plumber? If your spouse filed for divorce, would you seek the help of your dog-walker?
I’ll assume your answer is, “No.”
Yet, it has become a routine part of the American dialog that when mass shootings are committed, not only are we all immediately told by politicians not to ‘politicize’ such situations–politicians being those people in our society who are tasked with establishing law. But we are also told that such killings are a problem of the ‘mental health system’–which has no power to enforce law or even to make anybody get mental health care. All while law enforcement—which is, well, the means by which laws are enforced—is left out of the picture, except to say that if current laws were enforced, then we wouldn’t have such situations, and that no new laws are necessary.
In other words, pro-gun/pro-gun-lobby forces tell us that an issue properly dealt with by the legal system and law enforcement is actually a problem of the mental health system.
Think of all—or even a few–of the forms of human tragedy that involve human actions inflicting harm—or even death–on human victims.
How many of those types of violence are attributed to flaws in the ‘Mental Health System’?
We could eliminate terrorism if only we could fix the mental health system!
Drunk driving could be eradicated if only the mental health system would address the problem!
Embezzlement could be ended if only white-collar criminals had access to appropriate mental health services!
Child molestation is, at base, a mental health issue, not an issue of…what? Access to children?
Granted, it’s possible that terrorism, drunk driving, child molestation and white collar crime could potentially be reduced if those people who engage (or potentially engage) in such actions had mental health supports or other forms of guidance that led them away from those behaviors and toward more positive actions. But exactly when does anybody expect those supports to intervene, and in what form?
Gee, ma’am, we see you’ve been looking up ‘jihadist’ websites, would you maybe like some counseling to help you get those bad ideas out of your head?
Son, I notice you’ve had quite a few drinks, and your car is just outside. Perhaps if I could help you clarify your goals around driving right now, you might see that Lyft would be the better option.
Ma’am, it appears you might be toying with the idea of skimming funds from your clients. Would you mind talking with me for an hour or so, so we can map out some better life goals for you, that you then might be able to share with your friends and co-workers?
Sir, we’ve noticed you frequently hanging out just outside the Claire’s, and it seems you might be taking an unhealthy interest in young girls. Would you, perhaps, like some counseling to prevent you from ever molesting a tween?
Just so we’re all clear, mental healthcare is not predictive, except in the very narrow aspect of identifying factors that might make someone more pre-disposed to one behavior or another. But mental health interventions are rarely brought to bear, unless a person who is at risk for committing a particular act has had the foresight to seek out help her/himself, or the legal system has gotten involved because of harms already inflicted.
How many of the people who blame the shortcomings of the ‘mental health system’ for gun violence and mass shootings could give even a rudimentary explanation of what that ‘mental health system’ consists of, or offer any kind of reasonable, fact-based, evidence-based ideas that might offer even minimal improvements in the ‘mental health system’s’ ability to stop gun violence? How many of the ‘mental health system’ blamers can even explain how anybody would access mental health services…or be pushed into those services if they were a potential risk for mass shooting?
I’d guess that number is hovering somewhere between the number of arms on a rattlesnake, and the number of good sequels to ‘The Godfather’.
One major problem with the argument that the ‘mental health system’ can stop gun violence is that there is no way for the ‘mental health system’ to know who has guns and who does not, aside from the owners of guns (and perhaps their friends and family, where privacy laws don’t get in the way) telling providers in the ‘mental health system’ that they own guns—and that they intend to use them.
That is to say, unless the client of a mental health provider makes a fairly specific threat to use a gun or guns to kill somebody, or multiple somebodies, and the mental health provider knows that the client has access to those weapons, the mental health provider has very few options to stop such violence.
Hell, even in the presence of a specific threat, the mental health provider has few options other than to inform police, and hope the police can act to stop the person making the threats.
And, in case you’re wondering, the police have very limited powers to intervene where potential ‘mass shooters’ have a legal right to own guns, or when those potential shooters have not done or said anything that is actionable by police—like having made a specific threat to use firearms against specific people, and/or in specific places.
So the option to inform law enforcement is often little more than a mental health provider covering her/his own ass. ‘I made the call to 911 at exactly 8:19 p.m. on September 29, 2017, and spoke to operator #224.’ It goes in the client record, just in case it becomes relevant in a court case.
But the cops, like mental health providers, are not some pre-cog, future-crimes superstars, able to cull out dangers just by looking at people. And even those police and mental health providers who might be extraordinarily perceptive are often hobbled by the actual law. It’s rare that somebody can be arrested or put into mental health treatment for something they might do. You see, law enforcement works on principles of catching people who have already broken laws, not on the idea that people could or might break laws. I’m not sure changing those principles would be good for any of us—getting locked up or thrown into mandatory treatment based on what our personal profiles suggest we might do.
The ‘mental health system’ and the people working in that system, are there to help people overcome problems across the broad spectrum of all human problems that people can address with some psychoeducation and guidance aimed at improving self-awareness and promoting behavioral changes. The providers in that system rely solely on the communication of the people they are treating (verbal and otherwise) to convey information that might help to understand those problems and find solutions.
It’s rare for 1) a person intending to commit a mass shooting to relay that information to a mental health provider, or 2) for such a person to even be in treatment at the time s/he (okay, it’s essentially always a he) entertaining such thoughts.
On top of all that, it’s ludicrous that the gun-loving citizens of the U.S.A. somehow see the ‘mental health system’ as the solution to this problem, given their penchant for stereotyping mental health providers as a bunch of uptight women and effeminate men, and mental healthcare itself as being for the weak and obviously insane.
But then, the idea is that the people who would commit mass shootings are the type of people who would obviously be identified and locked up by professionals—because, well, that’s just how things work—right?
It’s as if the pro-gun/anti-gun-control forces simultaneously see mental health providers as the prime movers in the ‘wussification of America’, and, at the same time, super-badass profilers, who can somehow identify, and then take out, the trash that preys on innocent Americans who only want to enjoy a movie, or a day at school, or a concert, or a church service, or any other kind of public gathering, without having to fear being shot.
So what is it, all you opponents of gun control? Is ‘the mental health system’ the only thing standing between you and a bunch of violent psychopaths, hell-bent on shooting up all that is American? Or is the mental health system run by a bunch of anti-American, ivory-tower, namby-pamby know-it-alls who want to take your guns away?
You can’t have it both ways.
The real failure isn’t in the mental health system—or in law enforcement–it’s in the foolish idea that arming everyone leads to greater safety by ensuring the ability of everyone to stop everyone else who shouldn’t be allowed access to arms, and a legal system propped up by people that allow such foolishness to continue.