It lurks in the shadows of nearly every mass shooting. It rides on the back of the soaring American suicide rates. It haunts our veterans, stalks our aging, and cripples our children. It fuels domestic and random violence, and it drives our homeless into the streets.
Mental illness is a — and perhaps “the” — current American plague. You’d be hard pressed to find another epidemic that affects the nation’s broad spectrum of citizens so universally and so profoundly. And yet, our federal government spends comparatively little time, effort, or money attempting to address it.
Amy Klobuchar, the senior United States Senator from Minnesota, and a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 Presidential elections, has recently emphasized that one of the primary platforms for her campaign will be the improvement of the federal government’s approach to mental health.
A MORE VIABLE APPROACH TO REDUCING VIOLENCE
This issue is much larger and more important than my personal interests, however. Senator Klobuchar has spent years pointing out that the rash of mass murders in the United States have one bipartisan element in common: an almost unwavering link to a demonstrated history of mental illness.
Every mentally stable Republican, Democrat, parent, child, hunter and animal rights activist wants to avoid the next potential school shooting. Yet, year after year, tragedy after tragedy, we fail to make any progress in reducing the likelihood that the next one will occur.
The ticker words haven’t even scrolled completely across the screen before the gun control topic is reignited. Each side repeats the same tired points to opposing ears that aren’t listening, and nothing is accomplished. I’m not in favor of abandoning the dialogue altogether out of frustration, but I am in favor of the realistic acknowledgment that progress from that angle has been and may continue to be slow.
In the interest of the safety of our nation’s children, perhaps it is best if we consider alternative approaches rather than waiting out the battle between the unstoppable force and the immovable object. If gun control is too contested a subject on which to make progress at this very moment, then perhaps a greater effort in the direction of mental health accomplishes the same goal while being more universally palatable.
In fact, it’s arguably a more effective solution to criminal violence than greater gun control. Mass killings occur by means other than guns, and mental instability plays a part in them all. Is our priority really saving innocent lives, or are we just more interested in scoring a victory over the other side of the aisle?
THE RUNAWAY SUICIDE RATE
Suicide rates have climbed more than 30 percent in half of the states over the past couple of decades, and they’ve increased to some extent in nearly every state. The impact of the epidemic is such that the CDC has recently launched initiatives to understand the rise. Mental health concerns are not the only cause of suicides, but they are certainly the most substantial one.
It seems obscenely obvious that the gross number of preventable deaths realized by murders and suicides alone would warrant practical, concrete, government action. In recent years we’ve watched a heartbreaking parade of celebrity suicides push the issue to the forefront of the collective consciousness. And yet, we struggle to find the topic barely clinging to the bottom of a long list of other heretofore fruitless partisan squabbles.
A PREVENTABLE CAUSE OF HOMELESSNESS
An official 2015 study found that over half a million people in the United States were homeless at that time. The same study found that nearly half of those individuals suffered from some form of mental illness. It would be unrealistic to deny that mental illness was a primary factor in the tumble into homeless status for at least a significant portion of those people.
Homelessness is also a universal woe. It is unquestionably tragic, and it benefits neither political party. It is a nonpolitical social issue that needs to be addressed or will only worsen. And mental illness is one of the most easily identifiable and addressable contributing factors.
A CANDIDATE STRIVING FOR CONCRETE RESULTS
Amy Klobuchar is known for her pragmatism; she’s considered by both parties to be a politician who actually “gets things done.” She’s already released a $100 billion plan to address mental health issues and substance abuse, and she’s demonstrated her intention to fund at least a portion of that plan by taxing the opioid industry. But it’s not really about Amy Klobuchar.
Washington needs to focus much more heavily on mental health issues and treatment, no matter who makes that happen. Greater efforts in the mental health arena literally benefit citizens of every race, creed, gender, and socioeconomic level, without directly accosting any party’s political ideologies. In a nation and a time when political deadlock seems to have mired nearly every other significant form of societal advancement, we are being offered the immediate opportunity to make a colossal improvement with which no logical person could disagree.