On January 6, 2016, President Obama told reporters at the White House he was exercising his executive authority to allocate $500 million to shore up the nation’s mental health care system. Guns – specifically guns in the hands of mentally ill individuals – and gun violence were the impetus for the president’s unilateral decision. The president said a portion of the money will be used to improve background checks on individuals who buy guns.
Ostracized in a pool of stigma
In his press conference, the president said, “We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone.” The Los Angeles Times notes there have been 21 mass shootings with 178 killed and 192 injured during Obama’s presidency. In his press conference following the San Bernardino, California terrorist attack on December 2, 2015, which claimed 14 lives, the president expressed his disgust at having to address the nation regarding yet another mass shooting. He vowed to make gun control a key component of his domestic agenda.
The president said individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. But, he added, “…incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system.”
Presumably, the $500 million earmarked to improve mental health access will be used to improve the background check process in order to prevent people with mental illness from acquiring guns. Under current guidelines, Adam Lanza, Jared Lee Loughner, James Holmes, Dylann Storm Roof, Elliot Rodger and many of the other mass shooters would have passed background checks. In fact, the majority of weapons used in the 21 shootings were legally obtained.
Ron Honberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — NAMI — applauded Obama’s move. He called the $500 million a welcome step. A step in what direction some would ask?
Obama’s lament is the current background checks failed to prevent mentally ill individuals from obtaining guns. But there was nothing illegal in how most of these individuals got the guns. It is unlikely $500 million will be used just to add a layer of new paint to the existing laws. Half a billion dollars doesn’t indicate minor tweaks — that amount of money can affect regime change.
The solution may cost more than half a billion
Honberg notes since the 2008 recession, states have cut funding for mental health treatment by nearly $4 billion total. The president’s action casts a positive light on what is a cloudy subject for most people. Mental illness is not the boogeyman hiding in the closet. NAMI estimates one in four adults — roughly 61 million Americans — experiences a mental illness in a given year. These people are our friends, our family and our neighbors. They need our support, not our suspicion.
Sovereign Health Group treats individuals with mental illness. We treat individuals with substance abuse issues. We treat individuals who have concurrent conditions. If you want help with a mental health condition or with substance abuse, call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer