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Monday, March 25, 2013

MENTAL ILLNESS AND GUN VIOLENCE

   
I wanted the psychiatrist to address the elephant in the room 
regarding gun violence.

    The gun control debate rages on an on. I have attended rallies and town halls. I have read innumerable posts on-line and newspaper articles. I have had countless conversations with gun enthusiasts and protectors of our 2nd Amendment. I know that this is an important issue. Yet the longer the debate goes on the less inspired I have felt to write about it. As I watched the video of the Fox45 Town Hall on Gun Control in Maryland that I attended last week...it finally hit me. We all know that gun control is not the issue of what happened in any of these mass shootings. Our gut tells us it is a human defect, a societal problem, but the politicians--wanting to appear as "doing something"--have introduced gun control bills all over the country. They have forced every freedom-loving citizen to engage in fighting these bills that do nothing except make the politicians look good and the public feel good. The unintended  consequences (or are they?) are the infringements on law-abiding citizens' liberties. These laws do not help the mentally ill or protect the public from their sometimes deadly affects on our society. These laws do nothing to repair the damage done to our society by the glorification of extreme violence in movies, on television, and the most damaging of all video games. That would take time, money, and most of all courage.
While everyone is focusing on an inanimate object the people who need help go without it and many more people will be killed because of it. Unfortunately, a good guy or a mentally healthy guy with a gun is their only defense.
    There was a psychiatrist on the panel of the Fox45 Town Hall. To be honest I was a little bored with most of the discussion, not because it isn't important, but because I have heard it all many times over the last couple of months. What did interest me was the doctor. He didn't say much. He only spoke when he was directly asked a question, unlike the other panelists who talked over each other trying to make their points. He sat quietly with a pained look on his face. The cynic in me wondered if he was trying to appear interested. I wanted to know "his story." Those who read my blog know my story about my sister's shooting death (http://tinyurl.com/berdpvu), and that I believe that her death was a result of the failure of the Veterans Administration, law enforcement, the court system, mental health workers, social workers, and lawyers to protect her and the glorification of violence in movies such as "Rambo," and I suspect similar-themed video games. I wanted to hear solutions from this doctor. I wanted him to address the elephant in the room. 
    The moderator finally asked the doctor a direct question about the role of mental illness in these mass shootings. This is what he said,
We don't know who the ticking time bomb is. We don't know who is going to pop. We are not in a position to predict violence. It sounds like we are trained to do that, but that is not really our training. ANYONE IN THIS AUDIENCE COULD PREDICT VIOLENCE AS WELL AS I CAN. 
This is not an answer to the question. This is not a solution. This is a defense. I was so annoyed with his answer.  I am still annoyed because it enabled everyone to go back to focusing on the gun. At this point I realized that this was about him and not about the issue. The answer is not even an honest answer! Do you mean to tell me that in all of his years of education they did not have one course on detecting when someone may be a danger to himself or others? I refuse to believe it! I also believe that in the most recent cases most of everyone in the audience probably could have predicted a possible violent outcome, and therefore there had to be some professional somewhere in their lives who could have as well. Somebody dropped the ball and he knows it or he would have answered the question instead of putting up a defense.
       Later the moderator asked the audience a question to be answered by a clap of hands. The question was, "There is a sufficient amount of money and attention dedicated to mental health issues, yes or no?" The audience overwhelmingly believed  there was not. 
     The doctor again went on the defense offering no solution and no hope. He said,
There is not enough money. There will never be enough money. We have a doctor shortage. Try to get an appointment with a psychiatrist today. I am booking May. You have a choice--the ER or me in May. IS IT MY FAULT IF YOU COMMIT A CRIME BETWEEN NOW AND MAY? WE ARE NOT CLAIRVOYANT. WE ARE NOT MIND READERS, AND WE CAN'T PREVENT VIOLENCE.
Really? This is the message he wanted to bring to the conversation? This is all he had for us? The moderator pressed him for some kind of a solution or just a sliver of hope, and asked him, "Are there any stop-gap measures or perhaps social workers who can possibly fill a void?" He said,
They are under the same situation. Call your social worker and see if she will book you by the end of April. 
The doctor sat looking pained almost to the very end of the night when he was asked, "If you suspect a ticking time bomb, where is that line between a patient's privacy and your responsibility to report that to authorities?" The great doctor said, 
If someone presents imminent danger, I can involuntarily commit them with another physician to a facility. That can be upheld by a judge 72 hours later. If it is upheld, BY THIS BILL---THAT IS WHERE YOU HAVE LOST YOUR RIGHT TO A HAND GUN. THAT PUTS ME IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION because many people who are involuntarily committed, that is a small snap shot of their life 3, 5, 6, 7 days, months, years later they are perfectly fine. Now they have to re-apply for a hand gun. 
AS A PHYSICIAN WITH ALL THE LAWYERS WE HAVE IN THIS TOWN, I'M NOT GOING TO SIGN A DOCUMENT THAT SAYS THAT THIS PATIENT IS GOING TO BE SAFE WITH A HAND GUN FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES (sic). THAT IS A HUGE LIABILITY.
One of the other panelists stated that the law does allow the appeal, but as stated by the doctor, no doctor would  likely support your appeal. Again, he is worried about his personal liability. I understand that doctors and social workers are people too and that they need to look out for themselves. However, I would like to think that many of them were led by some level of "altruism" to get into their career fields. This doctor could have used this forum to say anything that he felt was important regarding mental illness and gun violence, and all that he addressed the entire night was liability. I found that very disappointing. 
    My questions to the doctor would have been: Why aren't politicians, mental health physicians, social workers, healthcare workers, and politicians introducing and supporting bills that help the mentally ill? Why aren't they demanding government funds and introducing laws that would address the real issues behind these mass murders? Why are we all focusing on an inanimate object that can not kill anyone without someone with a mental illness or a criminal background or intent pulling the trigger? I just want to stop the music and stop the dance that we are all engaged in and address the real problems! 
   The doctor did say one thing that I could agree with wholeheartedly. The moderator asked him, "How do we bridge the issue of trust, or lack of trust, that many people feel towards the government?" The doctor separated himself from himself for a moment and said,
I think it's real concerning when we have political officials who say take full advantage of a good crisis to promote your career and your political stance. 
It becomes very hard to trust that mentality and the narcissism that goes along with taking advantage of a crisis to promote your career.
This is often what we see on TV. We see these three-week long stories and every politician trying to get their word in edgewise.

Bravo Doctor! Bravo!!







1 comment:

  1. Hello Lynda,

    I have learned to admire your dignified and low keyed activism and have discovered that our politics and point of view is quite similar. The subject of your post here came up also in my life in a family discussion recently. I had resort to the following article which I consider relevant to the general issue of random mass violence by young males in modern American society and how best to address it. I post the link here for your reference:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/05/the-war-against-boys/304659/

    This article is over a decade old; however the 8 year old boys when it was first published are now 21 years old. I would like to remind people of this chapter in the so called culture wars. I saw it alive and well on a University campus from 2005-2008; some of the ideology that passes for scholarship is hideous.

    I think that really that we must come to terms with mental health side of the mass destructive violence debate and that so far only lip service has been paid to this. I will say one more thing. I remember when Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was brutally assaulted by a young and apparently schizophrenic male who had been systematically removed from his local community college for bizarre behavior. The authorities at the college had no thought to notify local police and if they had, the local police would have probably had no procedure with which to deal with such a report. Further, putting this young man on a "no can buy" list for firearms was not a possibility apparently. This event occurred AFTER a similar event at Virginia Tech in 2006 with a young man known to be very disturbed. Government at every level seems only interested in posturing and leading emotional after the fact pep rallies with no real addressing of the issue. Violent media including video games haven't even made the discussion either. What a disgrace we are as an organized society.

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