Mental health a large issue in violence problem facing U.S.

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To the Editor,

I believe that the U.S. has a violence problem not a gun problem. Media spin skews gun violence statistics by including individual suicides to arrive at their figure of 30,000 annual gun-related deaths. More than half of these consist of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Crime and accidents account for the other half.

Violent crime has become so widely reported that we are rarely surprised by its occurrence. The 24-hour-a-day news cycle ensures that even lesser incidents are publicized. Thus we are familiar with and even expect the possibility of criminal activity. For example: find a parked car with a wallet or purse visible inside, and you will automatically assume that car is a target for crime. You think about the possibilities because you are familiar with the risk.

Most of us spend our entire lives avoiding people and places that may put our personal safety in jeopardy. Does someone make you nervous? You avoid them and attempt to keep them away from your sphere of influence. Do you visit the convenience store late at night for a gallon of milk? Though you might, it’s not a good idea due to potential risk.

Avoiding violent crime is far simpler than addressing and correcting its causes. However, a discussion of those root causes — and what realistically can be done about them — is essential to the current debate over Second Amendment rights.

I believe the larger mental health issue also must be central to that discussion. It’s clear that our health care system allows troubled individuals to drop through the cracks. Many emotionally distressed persons are not diagnosed until their behavior reaches a criminal level, and even then the mental health event will often be categorized as criminal activity only.

I’ve had personal experience with the devastating effects of untreated mental illness. My father committed suicide by handgun. Until his death, no one suspected a mental health issue. Six months ago, a former foster son of ours took his life after struggling with untreated mental illness for years. He lacked private health insurance. I’ve found there is little help available for people with mental health issues unless one has good health-care insurance.

It’s been suggested that a mental health database be added to firearm purchase requirements. If we add mental health screening to firearm purchase requirements, the benefits will be minimal, the mentally ill will find a way around this via theft or fraudulent purchase. Criminals already do.

The proposed mental health database is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons and has potential for misapplication, for example in job applicant screening. Some employers already check credit scores and ask for social media passwords. Why not check mental health records too? The line between public safety and personal privacy quickly becomes blurry.

The intersection of mental illness with violent crime is a dilemma that won’t be easily solved. However, awareness is the first step toward solving any problem. It’s time for us to take a realistic look at the prevalence of violence of all forms in our lives. We can no longer afford to look the other way.

Alvin Walsh
Tecumseh




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