Magazine article Variety

"About 95% of the Nation's Public Psychiatric Beds Have Been Eliminated"

Magazine article Variety

"About 95% of the Nation's Public Psychiatric Beds Have Been Eliminated"

Article excerpt

Nobody wants to see guns in the hands of individuals who are mentally unstable. But merely reforming America's gun laws or purging film and videogames of all murder and mayhem is not going to prevent mass killings like the one that took 26 lives in Newtown last month.

For one thing, even a complete gun ban would leave many weapons available to individuals intent on harming others. Since March 2010, for example, men in China exhibiting psychiatric symptoms have used knives, an axe, a machete and a box cutter in mass assaults that left school children dead or wounded. In the past three months alone, nearly 40 Chinese children have been wounded or killed by assailants without guns.

Meanwhile, in California, automobiles were the weapon of choice for three mass killings that have left seven dead and nine injured since 1999.

Making entertainment less violent likewise would do nothing to liberate psychotic individuals from the dangerous commands of voices and actors who exist solely in their brains. These are far more real to them than anything Hollywood can create for the screen.

To reduce mass tragedy, there needs to be mass recognition that a small number of individuals with untreated severe mental illness will continue inflicting harm on themselves and significant numbers of others as long as legal and other barriers prevent them from getting the treatment they need to begin recovery.

The National Advisory Mental Health Council recognizes seven serious mental illnesses. Of these, three - schizophrenia, severe bipolar disorder and severe depression - account for the vast majority of violent acts associated with untreated psychiatric disease, which include suicide. Approximately 7.7 million people suffer from these three diseases, and about half of them are receiving no treatment at any given point in time.

There is no evidence that individuals who receive treatment for severe mental illness are more dangerous than the general population. But an estimated 1% of the 7.7 million have been found to pose a danger to themselves or others when untreated, and that's 77,000 people at risk to harm someone while experiencing symptoms from a treatable illness.

If America wants to get serious about stemming headline massacres that have produced more than 100 casualties in 2012 - and the countiess everyday tragedies that unfold with little or no publicity - three public policies must change. …

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