It's just a matter of time, that cold chilling feeling you get when you turn on the news or open up your Facebook page and hear about a “live shooter.” We are becoming habituated to it though, the terror of it all seems to ease some and the fear subsides sooner than perhaps it should. Many have already decided why and how this kind of thing should be dealt with, but are actually missing the bigger picture. Sane people do not commit mass shootings.
On a chilling day in Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner shot and killed 6 and wounded 13 more, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in the head. According to Loughner's parents Jared's behavior was erratic and disturbing, his father didn't know where to turn and had been attempting to keep Jared home bound by disabling Jared's car and taking his shotgun. His father did this every night for months prior to the shooting. Jared's mother stated that he did this “because his behavior is, um, been not normal.”
What would you do in the same situation if it were your child? Many people have nowhere to turn when significant mental health issues present themselves. The frightening reality is, there is no where to turn. Loughner's parents could have called the police and had him taken to a hospital emergency room where Loughner would have been released had he stated that he was not going to kill himself or anyone else. It is impossible to predict what Loughner would have said to the physicians in an E.R. Had he been determined a danger he would have been held for a maximum of 72 hours and likely released.
A similar but more telling scenario played out when shooter James Holmes sought help from Dr. Lynne Fenton. Fenton, the Psychiatrist treating James Holmes felt that she was bound to silence even though she knew Holmes was having homicidal thoughts three to four times a day. Fenton stated that had he revealed what he intended to do, "I likely would have put him on a mental health hold and contacted the police.” Even if Holmes had been put on a 72 hour hold and interviewed by police the outcome would have likely been the same, he would have been released and went ahead with the killings.
People know, yet they have no where to turn.
Now let's put things into proper perspective. Out of half a million very seriously mentally ill there is approximately one or two individuals who are in need of help that end up actually shooting people. The vast majority of seriously mentally ill are perfectly safe to be around and safe in and among society. Police killings of the mentally ill are far greater in number than the mentally ill kill.
The dilemma is that the vast majority of all weapons obtained by shooters are obtained legally; they can and do pass background checks; and will likely continue to do so. We can not prevent every person with a mental illness from obtaining a weapon, nor should we, as all mental health issues are not the same. Taking the guns away from all of us is a maneuver that has yet to elicit an effective cure in any country that it has been implemented in; at maximum a Psychiatrist could be authorized to put a temporary hold on the ability of an individual to purchase a weapon; yet, this won't alleviate the problem of an individual obtaining a weapon illegally or if they already own one. The seriously mentally ill with homicidal intentions will find another way to commit a heinous act. In The People's Republic of China, where guns are illegal, there have been machete, knife, and hammer attacks on fellow citizens. One such attack was the Chenpeng school attack where Min Yongjun stabbed 24 people, 23 of them children. Another such attack was committed by Zheng Misheng who murdered 8 children by stabbing them with a knife during school.
The weak link is who knew and the fact that there is no where to turn even if you do know. There are people in the lives of individuals who are planning to commit mass murder who know in advance. The real depth of the problem is not guns, but the fact there is no where for the people who know or even for the individuals themselves to get emergency mental health services. There are simply no Emergency Community Intervention Centers available to individuals who are in desperate need of help. There are a few of these centers popping up in communities, but they are very few and far between.
Budget cuts continue to plague many states, since the recession there has been an estimated 5 billion dollars in mental health services cut between 2009 and 2012, and 4500 hospital beds were eliminated for psychiatric services, that amounts to 10% of the total number of beds available. When it comes to budget cuts mental health services are the first to go, leaving many individuals with no where to turn. No where to go for emergency mental health services is no small matter either as some 10 million people are affected by mental health issues. Of that 10 million people half a million of them suffer from mental health disorders so significant they can't function well in society. On a temporary scale 1 in 1000 new mothers will suffer from postpartum psychosis and need help, someone with bi-polar disorder may have a psychotic episode, and then there are those with schizophrenia who will need lifelong care. Schizophrenics are commonly the so-called “bums” scoffed at on the streets, many are shunned and ostracized by family members as well as society in general, and then with no where to turn for help they end up in emergency rooms, and then commonly jail; some are simply found dead.
Institutions of the past were indeed corrupt, harsh, and no place that anyone would want to be, and resulted in deinstitutionalization which began in 1955 and continued into the 1990's when institutions began to clear out all of the mentally ill and completely close their doors. Institutions closed with the belief that these individuals could be integrated into society with a supporting community that promised access to jobs and housing. Patient rights where an individual who was not a danger to themselves or others were required to be set free; these same rights are intact today.
Deinstitutionalization was a failure, the community intervention, housing, and jobs promised were shallow at best. Funding to aid the seriously mentally ill diminished, this resulting in jail or the morgue becoming the new institution. There is little if any compassion for these “bums,” who can't seem to “get a job.” The problem is some of the seriously mentally ill will never function as healthy people, they can never be integrated into society and will, for their entire lives, be in need of significant assistance. Jobs for these individuals are not the answer, some are not afforded a life without constantly hearing voices, some have a separation from reality and will never comprehend reality in a way that creates ease of existence, they have no where to turn.
Often times they turn to the police who have little to no training at all on how to deal with much less recognize an individual with a mental illness. All too often in this day and age individuals who suffer from significant mental illness end up being beaten or shot to death by the police who are incapable of dealing with individuals who are exhibiting signs of serious mental illness issues and they are perceived as a threat when in fact they are not.
Furthermore, emergency rooms do not have the capability to effectively treat or legally keep the seriously mental ill. The current “system” of care is geared toward those individuals who can wait for an initial appointment and then make and keep more as well as take medication without assistance. We need services that provide immediate care and intensive treatment of emergency mental health issues, where currently we have none.
Our society is desperately in need of education and then accommodation of the mentally ill. Emergency Community Intervention Centers would be able to provide immediate long term and temporary housing, long term medication with supervision if necessary, and employment if the individual is able to work; they would have a staff that is capable of identifying an individual who is in an emergency situation and thus be able to provide immediate and mandatory aid to that individual. They would be similar to a halfway house, work release, or assisted living centers. Emergency Community Intervention Centers would allow for up to 50% of the prison population to be integrated into these centers and be afforded housing, jobs, and medication immediately upon their release from prison and not be put directly on the streets. This would massively reduce costs of prison and be beneficial to a population who does not belong in jail. For example, women suffering from postpartum psychosis could be housed with their babies and monitored via video. The mentally ill need and at the very least deserve our care and compassion; they are indeed the most helpless of all in our society.
Now is the time to speak out about this matter. Remember that sane people do not commit mass shootings, and the insane have no where to turn for help. Contact your local congressperson and voice your opinion about Emergency Community Intervention Centers. These center could save billions in tax dollars, give homes, help, and hope to those in desperate need, and ultimately prevent the next mass shooting.