NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is deeply saddened by the mass shootings that are far too common and impact every corner of our nation. Every time we experience a tragedy like this, people with mental illness are drawn into the conversation. The truth is most violence is not perpetrated by people with mental illness. Statements to the contrary only serve to perpetuate stigma and distract from the real issues.
NAMI sees gun violence as a national public health crisis that impacts everyone.
“In the U.S., it is easier to get a gun than it is to get mental-health care,” states Angela Kimball, acting NAMI CEO. “We need to flip the script. It should be easy—not hard—for people to get the mental-health care they need.”
We implore and advocate for common-sense approaches to ending gun violence. For example, we support gun violence prevention restraining orders or “red flag” laws, provided due process is used, that don’t target people with mental-health conditions, but that allow for the removal of guns from any person who poses a real, evidence-based risk of violence to themselves or others.
Elected officials have made statements about reopening mental “institutions” and some have called people with mental illness “monsters.” This is not constructive and has perpetuated false stereotypes. Words matter! People living with mental-health problems are our friends, neighbors, children and spouses. They’re not “monsters,” “the mentally ill” or “crazy people”—they’re us. Talking about putting people in an institution only further marginalizes and isolates the one in five people who experience a mental illness sometime in their life. Instead, we need to be talking about the power of early treatment and effective intervention to change lives. We should be talking about better care and earlier access to intensive treatment, not revisiting the shameful institutions of our past.
Frequently, people languish in emergency
rooms and law enforcement officers are res-ponding to avoidable crises because community-based mental-health services aren’t there for people who need them. There are common-sense approaches that we know are effective and that can be implemented now to improve access to mental-health services. We must:
Promote early intervention. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, 75 percent begin by age 24. Getting help early, such as with coordinated specialty care for first-episode psychosis, results in better outcomes and lowered costs.
Invest in better access to quality care. There is a severe shortage of mental-health professionals—more than 60 percent of all counties in the United States do not even have a single psychiatrist.
Divert people from the criminal justice system. Jails and prisons shouldn’t be today’s mental-health institutions. Instead, we need readily available crisis response and intensive mental-health services for people experiencing severe symptoms.
NAMI welcomes the opportunity to work with our government on steps for improving mental-health services in Idaho and across the nation.
Michael Sandvig is the president of NAMI Idaho.