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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Mental health is always relevant, not just after a shooting

The election season is again upon us, which means we will continue to be subjected to the rhetoric from both parties on the typical issues — gun control, immigration, the economy and foreign affairs, to name a few. Shockingly, candidates continue to ignore a problem facing more than 45 million Americans: mental illness.

During the 2012 election mental health was hardly mentioned during debates. When it was touched on, it was only during discussions of gun violence and crime. Based on the few debates that have occurred so far this cycle, it seems as though this will continue to be the case. 

Instead of focusing on the topic itself, politicians continue to use it as a scapegoat for gun violence in order to avoid placing blame on the relaxed gun laws in our country.

Mental illness is a severe issue — 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a mental health problem each year, 60 percent don’t receive treatment and serious mental illnesses cost the U.S. $193 billion in lost earnings annually, according to the Huffington Post. Yet, it was only discussed in the GOP debates as a subset of gun violence and only mentioned once — by Sen. Bernie Sanders — during the most recent democratic debate. There is no other issue affecting 25 percent of the country’s population — Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — that receives so little attention.

The connection that has been forged between mental illness and gun violence isn’t as accurate as it seems to be. Although those who commit mass shootings are invariably suffering from mental illness, addressing the problem of mental health should not be the sole response to gun crimes. According to the Arizona Republic, “people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of a violent crime, … people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis are two-and-a-half times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population.” 

Furthermore, a study from the American Journal of Public Health shows that only 4 percent of violent crimes in the U.S. are committed by those diagnosed with mental illness.

Yet, America is only exposed to the stories worthy of headlines, which involve violent crimes committed by those with severe mental disorders. The vast majority of people affected by psychological illness, though, continue to suffer quietly and internally. 

The continued promotion of the connection between disorders and gun violence by the media and political candidates serves not to help this majority, but rather stigmatizes their disorders and discourages them from seeking help. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter on her website goes so far as to claim that “guns don’t kill people — the mentally ill do.”

If the politicians who are supposed to represent us and the media that is supposed to inform us cannot acknowledge that mental illness does not automatically connote violent crime, psychological disorders will continue to plague the country. Instead of discussing the issue only when mass shootings occur, comprehensive reform needs to be adopted that will seek to destigmatize mental disorders and provide greater options for treatment.

Thousands of Americans are homeless, imprisoned or dead because they could not receive the help they needed to combat their illnesses. 

Suicide remains steady as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for a death every 13 minutes. This is unacceptable.

The reality is that we have a serious mental health problem in the U.S. that needs to be addressed.

Even those who tie it only to gun violence more than likely have friends and family who suffer the effects of a disorder. Until our representatives are held accountable and made to realize the seriousness of the issue, though, treatable illnesses will continue to harm millions unnecessarily.

Follow Cooper Temple on Twitter.

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