Butter, not Guns

Mass Shootings & Mental Health Reform: Preventing future tragedies through focus and funding of our mental health system

Dear members of the United States Congress,

Putting aside the gun control debate, it occurs to me that Americans can all agree that improved access to mental health services would go a long way to reduce both mental illness caused and hate-motivated mass shootings. Improved access also would undoubtedly have countless other benefits for society, more than I will name here.

Reducing the access dangerous individuals have to firearms has been politically implausible to some, and consequently, politically impossible for the rest. However, pushing more comprehensive mental healthcare — that’s a much more feasible approach given the political non-starter that comprehensive gun control legislation has become even in the wake of heartbreaking and reoccurring gun violence. If we significantly reduce the barriers (cost, availability, and stigma) to mental health services in the United States, I believe it will significantly decrease the likelihood of tragedies like the one our nation and fellow citizens endured yesterday, and that we are almost assuredly — without action — will endure again and again. Regardless of how gridlocked Congress is on the issue of guns, this is a step we can take now and a path of less resistance.

We could start by making a serious investment in mental health. By paying for mental health professionals’ educations through loan forgiveness and subsidizing their salaries by making them fully tax exempt up to a certain threshold, we could augment the number of mental health providers, thus increasing options, availability, quality, and cost of services to patient.

Even with rules in place for parity in mental health services, insurance companies have found ways to make providers less likely to accept their plans, by reimbursing at super unreasonably low rates, thus reducing the chance that a policyholder will find an in-network provider, and in a sense, imposing a de facto higher moral hazard. We could give the mental health professionals financial relief if they agree to accept all plans and implement a sliding scale for financially strapped patients. As the offset, we can tax and fine the health insurance companies that employ these mental health parity workarounds.

We also must do more to squash stigma from standing between mentally ill and getting the help they need. The shame of having a mental illness can be devastating enough, but it’s an entire different level of daunting when you don’t have the support of friends and family. It amazes me that communities today, in the year 2015–20 years after the internet reached the masses, that there are still those who remain uninformed on mental illness and contribute to the stigma in their community, unaware that it is almost a statistical certainty that someone they know and care about struggles alone and in silence.

We can do more to educate and prepare our communities with the facts: One in five of us live with mental illness. That means hypothetically, in a body of 535 individuals, over one-hundred of those individuals would have a mental illness. Like a physical injury, mental illness can be treated with therapy, medication, and professional help, but unlike many physical ailments cannot be cured — only managed. Happiness and the prospect of a “normal” life is still a real possibility for those who struggle, and even more likely with greater access to mental health services. Very few individuals with mental illness are violent, but those that hurt others seem to make the headlines and into media much more than the individual who struggles with depression who is shut-in and peacefully keeps to their self. Did you know that next week (October 4th through 10th) is Mental Illness Awareness Week? Here are some more Mental Health Facts.

If we can’t act on guns, let’s act now to ensure mental health services are available to all those could-be mass murderers, and also those millions that suffer alone and could use some support. Let’s do this by decreasing cost of services, increasing availability of services, and squashing the stigma surrounding mental illness.


Brendan Orsinger