So many deaths this year by shooting and each time my heart breaks; children, my Sikh brothers and sisters and so many men and women. Each time one of these events occur, the headlines state shooter may have had a mental illness. I want to scream that this only one factor. My fear is people are going to begin to associate anyone with a mental health issue with the potential for violence. It just isn’t true.
It is the one area of medicine that still has not come out of the dark ages. Yes, there has been much progress but the stigma remains the same. Insurance companies limit number of visits and do not reimburse well for care. Getting hospitalized during a crisis is very difficult, if not impossible, because there are so few beds available. A colleague of mine told me a story of trying to get a client admitted for a viable suicide threat. The patient’s psychiatrist and therapist had called the hospital to admit the patient. They were told the patient had to go to the ER. Both providers were called and told the admission was denied. It wasn’t until the psychiatrist threatened to immediately contact the state was there an admission. This story plays out all to frequently.
I speak from a very personal place. I have a schizophrenic brother. He is not violent. He takes medication and it works. But it took years to get the right care. He was thrown about the system until one doctor told him he wouldn’t let him fall through the cracks. The doctor kept to his word and got my brother on the right medication.
It is clear from the research that there are other factors that contribute to violence beside mental illness. it may only be a factor in the reason someone does such horrific acts. My concern is that all people with a mental health diagnosis will be stigmatized not just by society but by the medical community. When I went to get my brother’s medical records, because he had a mental health diagnosis, his psychiatrist had to approve it. I found that insulting. My brother functions well on his own, goes to work, pays his bills, and interacts with the world as best he can. Yet he can’t have access to his medical records?
I don’t know many medical professionals who are comfortable with people suffering from a mental illness including depression or anxiety. There just isn’t enough training or understanding. It can be difficult to find a psychiatric practice accepting new patients. It also can take months to get an appointment.
My point is not all people with mental illness are violent. Many of the recent shooters did have a diagnosis. I do not give them a pass because of it. My hope is we won’t lump everybody with a diagnosis together as a threat.