Kadner: Guns easier to get than mental care
By Phil Kadner email@example.com December 19, 2012 9:24PM
Greg Frattaroli, 19, of Newtown, Conn., visits a memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:54PM
People who a week ago were saying this country needs to cut social programs and taxes are suddenly demanding better mental health care.
A lot of them are people who just want to change the conversation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre from gun control to health care.
That’s fine by me. The more people who acknowledge that government needs to spend more on mental health care the better, no matter what their motives.
“We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun,” President Barack Obama said at a news conference Wednesday.
The main topic of that news conference, of course, was reducing gun violence.
“From 2009 to 2012, states cut mental health services by $1.6 billion,” said Wayne Lindstrom, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America. “When you add in cuts to Medicaid, which is the primary funding source for mental health care in this country, that comes to $4.6 billion.
“And cuts that would be forced on Medicaid by the fiscal cliff as of Jan. 1 would cut mental health care services by another 10 percent.
“And mental health care was underfunded before 2009, and Illinois was among the worst states in the nation in that regard,” Lindstrom said.
Things have gone from bad to worse in the mental health care field, but Lindstrom says he sees a definite change on Capitol Hill this week.
“For the first time in my 41 years of dealing with Washington, people on Capitol Hill are talking in mental health care language,” he said.
All because Adam Lanza murdered 27 people.
While gun-control advocates in Congress were out in full force following the shootings at the Connecticut school, the campaign to improve mental health care seems to be lagging behind. The tragedy is more easily understood in terms of gun control because at last we know what sort of weapons Lanza used in his shooting spree.
Law enforcement officials said all of the victims seemed to have been shot by Lanza with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, which many people refer to as an assault weapon. He had ammunition clips that held 30 rounds each. Lanza was also carrying Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm semiautomatic handguns.
It should come as no surprise that the political focus is primarily on restricting access to assault rifles and large ammunition clips.
By comparison, the early reports about Lanza’s mental condition were that he had Asperger’s syndrome. That made as much sense to me as a reporter saying a mass murderer suffered from diabetes.
Sure, diabetics can get angry when their blood sugar isn’t under control, but I wouldn’t consider it a mental illness and would be shocked if someone linked it to a mass murder.
Asperger’s is a developmental disability, a type of autism, and is not considered a mental illness.
There are now unconfirmed reports that his mother was trying to commit Lanza to some sort of mental institution. But the facts about his mental illness remain vague.
What we do know is that no person in their right mind shoots 20 children in a school. And we also know this nation has done very little in the way of detecting mental illness in children.
U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) has tried unsuccessfully to pass a Mental Health in Schools Act, which would provide funding for public schools across the country to partner with local mental health professionals to establish on-site mental health care services for students.
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that one in five students suffer from some form of mental illness. And 70 percent of adolescents with mental health problems do not receive the care they need, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24.
Getting better mental health care into the schools would be a good thing, but there’s a problem with health insurance coverage. Most private insurance policies don’t treat mental health care the way they do other physical illnesses.
In 2008, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Law that addressed the issue, but the implementation language, which would define what “parity” actually means, has not been completed.
The Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act would require that health insurance policies cover mental health care, but according to Lindstrom, it relies on the same language as the Mental Health Parity Law.
So if Obama is serious about making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun, he can make sure his administration defines just what equal treatment for mental illness means under the law.
I believe the shootings in Connecticut had many causes. Access to guns and mental illness are two that are easily identified.
The issue of gun control has been publicly debated for decades, and the issues have been made clear to the public. The problems of mental health care have not been as well defined.
Illinois recently closed the Tinley Park Mental Health Center to save money, and Chicago closed mental health clinics for the same reason.
Mental illness remains stigmatized, while society has arrived at a greater understanding about illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.
Who is mentally ill?
“It’s a line that I think of as a continuum,” Lindstrom said. “We’re all on it.
“A person at the end of that line who has no visible problem today, if you tell him his family has just died in a car accident on a highway, he’s suddenly moved across that line to the end where he is at least dealing with severe depression.”
You and your family may not need help today, but tomorrow you could.
Lanza needed help years ago. Today, because he wasn’t treated, there are hundreds of families in Connecticut who have moved to the wrong end of that continuum.