Violence Isn’t Limited to Arizona, and Mental Health Laws Must Change, Says Civil Rights Author

Susan Klopfer
Author, Who Killed Emmett Till?

As a researcher and author of several civil rights books, I would like to comment on the violent Tucson killing of a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, the wounding of a congresswoman and killing of others.

I fear that our lack of available mental health services for many people who need help, along with the increasingly violent political rhetoric, will lead to more of these incidences. Violent acts committed by people like this young man who shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, are clearly on the rise — at a time when some politicians are calling for the repeal of public health care and mental health care services, and at a time when they and their supporters believe it is okay to encourage violence (“second amendment remedies”) on websites and in public.

Prisons are expensive solutions and are not the best answer for an educated society. We need to consider several changes, including more mental health training for everyone. Too many people seem to be very unsure as to what to do when they run into mental health issues or even how to recognize the signs of mental illness. There is too much ignorance about mental health even among journalists, teachers, politicians, ministers and others who should know better. I did notice the community college handled this young man appropriately and so did the military. The school recommended mental health assessment because that’s all they could do, and the military took note of his drug use and didn’t allow him to join.

Current mental health laws often make it hard to involuntarily commit a seriously mentally ill person, even if their behavior is quite dangerous. Typically, if such people are committed, treatment in most states only lasts about five days and then the patient is released and given some medicine that he or she would probably not take. Such a person often ends up being very angry upon release, ending up in jail. There needs to be required follow-through counseling, covered by insurance or public assistance. It is going to take better understanding of mental illness, changes in laws and a lot more money for our safety.

I certainly hope that mental health issues will become part of the national discussion that must take place following this horrific shooting. Surely those who continue to oppose health coverage for all need to step back and realize that part of health care services are mental health services. Can we really afford to cut out health and mental care? Can we continue to allow people to verbally target our leaders, and suggest “second amendment remedies” when they disagree? Can we really afford to use expensive prisons in place of mental health care? I don’t think so. And neither should you.