The United States has an epidemic of mass shootings. According to the CDC, there is a mass shooting every eight days. Furthermore, since Columbine 214,000 students have experienced a school shooting with over 141 students killed. With the shooting at the Gilory Garlic Festival, in El Paso, Texas, Daytona, Ohio and last night Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the statistics from the CDC seem to be right. Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, teenagers have been marching and contacting Congress to pass sane gun laws. Unfortunately, their requests have been ignored. Instead, the President has decided to blame people who have mental health issues.
Today he again blamed people with mental health issues and said the answer is we need to build more mental health asylums. According to him, these people all need to be locked up. His idea and approach to these mass shootings has only served to increase the negative stigma about mental health issues and those people who are dealing with mental health issues. Besides the solution he proposed, the language he uses reinforces the negative stigma. He has referred to some of the shooters as “sick puppies.” These shooters who have committed these terrible crimes have done horrific things to families and communities, but they are still human beings.
His idea that all mass shooters have a mental illness is ignorant and wrong. Most mass shooters have been single, white males. Additionally, the Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association issued a statement last week documenting that most people with mental illness are dangers to themselves more than others. I have been treating people for various mental health issues for over 20 years. During that time I have dealt with many patients who were suicidal, cutting or burning themselves and trying to starve themselves. They were all hurting themselves and did not want anyone else to get hurt. I have never had a patient threaten to hurt others physically. Therefore, my work and the work of my other colleagues support the statement by the American Psychiatric Association. Patients with mental illnesses are rarely violent to others they tend to be dangerous to themselves.
Many people are afraid to seek help for themselves or their teenagers for fear of what will happen if they are diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression. They are afraid of losing health insurance, not being able to get a job or their teen may not be able to get into a college. Overall they are afraid of becoming society outcasts and losing their rights. The way the President has referred to shooters as “sick puppies” has only served to reinforce the negative stigma about mental health issues. If he is saying people with mental health issues need to be locked up in asylums, people are going to be less likely to seek help. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teenagers. If we take the President’s approach, it will become the number one cause of teenage deaths.
The President did get one aspect of the shootings right. He stated hate is involved. When these shooters are investigated they all have hate towards certain groups. These mass shootings are hate crimes. Hate crimes were created for people who are victims of a crime due to their ethnic background, religion or sexuality. To be charged with a hate crime you need to hate someone not be mentally ill. The Klu Klux Klan has been terrorizing and killing people for years due to someone’s ethnicity or religion. No one has ever called a member of the KKK mentally ill. People refer to the KKK and other groups like them as hate groups not mentally ill groups. So instead of blaming mass shootings on people who have mental illnesses, why don’t we address the source of the problem? Everyone of these shooters have left writings and social media posts showing their hate for a particular group and their plans to kill as many people as they can that belong to this group. Hate is the problem.
We do not need asylums to help people with mental health issues. We need more community based programs and we need insurance companies to cover the necessary treatment a person needs if they have a mental health issues. Most people are born with mental health issues such as depression or develop an issue such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury from a car accident or being exposed to a traumatic event. Therefore, mental health issues are really not that different than physical health issues except there is funding to treat physical health issues and not enough to treat mental health issues.
If you are dealing with a mental health issue, please ignore the President and seek treatment. You will not be put into an asylum. If you are having issues, the sooner you seek treatment the better. The only time a person is hospitalized is if you are actively suicidal. This means you have decided to kill yourself and have everything ready to do it. Otherwise, you do not need to worry about being hospitalized.
Please write your Senator and demand that they pass sane gun laws so children are safe to go to school. Also ask for stricter laws for perpetuators of hate crimes. Finally ask for funds for community mental health centers and mental health education. We need to educate the public about mental health issues so we can remove the stigma the President is promoting.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. He is also a founding member of the National Street Soldier Advisory Board, a community based program for teenagers. For more information about his work visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3