How to Help the Mentally Ill?

By Beacon Staff
By John Fuller

Whenever a mentally ill person commits a heinous crime, people wonder how such a person escaped being diagnosed. Society also debates the feasibility of earlier intervention to include involuntary incarceration. And everyone would like to know which people harbor evil in their hearts and minds.

Previous to the reforms of the mid-20th century, mentally ill people were imprisoned, abused, subjected to involuntary electrical shock treatments, sterilized, and even lobotomized in the name of safeguarding society.

The 20th Century also saw mental illness classification being used to massacre undesirables (which included political dissidents) in Hitler’s Germany, the Soviet Union and Red China.

All of these efforts illustrate one essential detail: the difficulty of defining mental illness and determining someone’s potential for committing violence and harm. This writer would remind readers that at one time homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental illness. Now we are told it is worthy of marriage.

Despite the atrocities of recent mass shootings, giving any government more control over our medicine, health services, mental illness diagnosis, privacy, liberty and lives won’t make us safe. I might just be crazy, but I would rather worry about a few of my fellow citizens than to have to be afraid of my government.

By Joe Carbonari

Should mental health workers be required to alert law enforcement personnel when they suspect that a patient is a threat to self or to others? “Sure,” I say, but then I question.

Will fewer people seek help if they suspect that doing so might cost them their guns, or their ability to get a gun in the future? Might they somehow end up on another list that jeopardizes another right like holding a “sensitive” job, or caring for their children?

If I were a health worker, how sure would I have to be to take action? Conversely, how would I deal with the guilt if I didn’t and an atrocity took place?

Yes, we should tighten up our reporting requirements, but we shouldn’t expect either full compliance or the full follow through that is desired. Integrating our various reporting systems presents another daunting task, with much opportunity for abuse.

In no way can privacy be truly guaranteed. Embarrassment and outrage are inevitable. Does, “How dare you refuse to sell a gun to me?” make you shiver?

Do we need to tighten up who can buy a gun? Yes, but even as we take great care in how we do it, we will need to swallow hard and to accept both imperfection and unfairness along the way.

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