And What Is the Cost of Demonization?

[Content Note: Disablism; gun violence.]

Last month, the Obama administration enacted new rules requiring health insurers to provide parity in coverage for treatment of mental illness and physical illness. (That is kind of a shitty distinction, since the brain is a crucial part of the body, but it's a distinction that is routinely used in these discussions.) At the time, I noted that they were doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, as they justified the new guidelines by invoking the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre.

As if the primary reason for requiring access to mental healthcare is not because people with mental illness need and deserve care, but to stop people with mental illness from harming The Normals.

(Never mind, as always, the fact that people with mental illness are much more likely to be victimized by violence than be perpetrators of violence.)


Today, Vice President Joe Biden announced "$100 million towards improving access to mental health services and facilities." Which, again, is terrific. But, again, the justification is prevention of mass violence.
In a statement, the White House said the funds would be made available to increase access to services and improve mental health facilities. The funding comes both from the new health care law and from the Department of Agriculture.

"The fact that less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need is unacceptable," Biden said. "The President and I have made it a priority to do everything we can to make it easier to access mental health services, and today's announcements by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture build on that commitment."

Biden was slated to make the announcement at the White House at a meeting with families of the Newtown victims.
You know, associating all people with mental illness with mass shooters every time you announce a mental health initiative comes at a steep cost to people with mental illness. And that $100 million is terrific, but it won't buy us an existence free of stigma.

And, the thing is, this harmful conflation doesn't serve any purpose other than feeding bullshit narratives about "crazy" lone gunmen that are comforting in their service to absolving collective responsibility for violence.

Further, the pretense that access to comprehensive mental healthcare will somehow "solve" this problem elides key realities of some psychological disabilities, like:

1. Not all people with mental illness are dangerous, and not all killers are mentally ill, i.e. meeting any standard of psychiatric diagnosis. (Again, being mentally ill makes one more likely to be victimized by violence than to perpetrate it.)

2. Not all killers who are mentally ill can be helped by psychiatric care. This is The Thing we don't want to talk about at all—that there are dangerous people who can't be "fixed" by all the mental healthcare in the world. Most of these people currently end up in (and out of and in and out of) the prison system.

3. In addition to the continuing stigma around seeking care for mental illness, perpetuated and entrenched by ill-informed public "debates" that demonize people with mental illness, some mental illnesses themselves inhibit care-seeking. Relying on people with mental illness to "flag" themselves in need of care, especially men prone to aggression and violence, is not a realistic expectation. And an increasingly fantastical one the more that mental illness is stigmatized.

4. Some perpetrators of mass shootings, like Naval Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, had sought help for mental illness. Mental healthcare access is not magic.

I am totally and unreservedly in support universal access to comprehensive psychiatric care. I believe universal healthcare to be a human right. And I wish that this administration could expand access to mental health services without reflexively attaching it to violent murder.

But apparently it's more important to look like they're "doing something" about gun violence while doing fuck-all about access to guns than it is to extend people with mental illness both healthcare access and respect.

Related Reading:

In Pursuit of Doing Something Meaningful.

An Observation About Mental Illness.

Today in Terrible Ideas.

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