Robert Dear is the accused suspect in the shooting rampage at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs that killed three people. He appears to have been an eccentric loaner living in isolation in a shack with no electricity or running water and believed the government was out to get him.
Mass shootings like this one are usually committed by individuals who are mentally unstable. We do not yet know if mental illness played a part in this shooting, but the aftermath in all these shootings is always the same. President Obama and some in Congress immediately jump on the “enact tougher gun laws” bandwagon, while ignoring the fact that mental illness plays a role in nearly all these shootings. Severe mentally ill adults should NOT, under any circumstance, be allowed to purchase guns or have access to them, but it is our dysfunctional mental health system that is the problem. Until we fix it, we will continue to see these tragedies.
Last month, the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” introduced by Tim Murphy (R-PA), a psychologist, and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), a psychiatric nurse, advanced out of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. House leadership has indicated plans to move the legislation to the full Committee early next year, with the goal of moving it to the floor for a vote.
House Speaker Paul Ryan recently voiced support for H.R. 2646 and announced that mental health reform will be at the top of the 2016 agenda.
Currently, involuntary commitment laws set strict controls regarding hospitalization of adults suffering from severe mental illness, limiting it to circumstances when a person becomes a danger to self or others. Families for decades have had to work within the constraints of these laws as they struggle to get treatment for their loved ones before they deteriorate to a state of danger to themselves or a threat to society.
While we in this country go to great lengths to protect the civil liberties of people suffering from severe mental illness, most of whom are too sick to know they are sick and seek treatment, we ignore the civil liberties of the general public. They, too, have rights…the right to be protected from the small number of potentially dangerous individuals who are either off their meds or are not being treated at all. The people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Spring had a right to seek treatment without being gunned down by Mr. Dear.
My adult son suffered a 13-year roller coaster ride with severe bipolar disorder. During a manic episode, he lost touch with reality and lacked the ability to recognize he was ill. His downward course was aided by a completely ineffective legal system that continually protected his civil right to refuse treatment until he reached the crisis stage. Sadly, he was allowed to reach the crisis stage one time too many and took his life. Yes, his civil right to refuse treatment was protected. He took that right to his grave. His family is very grateful he did not take the lives of others.
Mental illness is treatable. It does not have to result in mass shootings or suicide. H.R. 2646 would enable those with serious mental illness to receive treatment sooner, making them less likely to reach a violent breaking point. Yes, tragedies might still happen, but many tragedies would be stoppable with proper mental treatment.
Fort Myers Beach
Pacharis is the author of, “Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle” and a Mental Health Advocate