Stop Talking about Mental Health - It's a Dodge

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 10, 2017 | Go to article overview

Stop Talking about Mental Health - It's a Dodge


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

"Hes a sick man, a demented man," said Donald Trump, trying to explain the latest mass shooting in the United States. We hear this view expressed routinely, after every new incident. But it is a dodge, a distortion of the facts and a cop-out as to the necessary response.

There is no evidence that the Las Vegas shooter was insane. (I prefer not to use his name and give him publicity, even posthumously.) He did not have a history of mental illness that we know of, nor had he been reported for behavior that would suggest any such condition. He was clearly an evil man, or at least a man who did something truly evil. But evil is not crazy. If we define the attempt to take an innocent humans life as madness, then every murderer is mad. If not, we should recognize that it is a meaningless term that adds little to our understanding of the problem.

Actually, the quick assumption of mental illness distorts the discussion. First, it smears people who do have mental disorders. Such people are not inherently highly prone to violence. They are more often victims of violence than perpetrators. And to the extent that some are violent, they are more likely to inflict harm on themselves. Mental health issues are correlated to suicides far more closely than they are to homicides.

Second, turning immediately to the "sickness" of the shooter and piously calling for better mental health care is, more often than not, an attempt to divert attention from the main issue: guns. (Its also breathtakingly cynical since the politicians who use this rhetoric are typically the ones who also aim to cut funding for mental health treatment.) Every conversation about gun deaths should begin by recognizing one blindingly clear fact about this problem the United States is on its own planet. The gun death rate in the U.S. is 10 times that of other advanced industrial countries. Places like Japan and South Korea have close to zero gun-related deaths in a year. The United States has around 30,000.

This disparity is the central fact that needs to be studied, explained and addressed. When seen in this light, it becomes obvious why focusing on mental health is a dodge. The rate of mental illness in the United States is not anywhere close to 40 times the rate in Britain. But the rate of gun deaths is 40 times higher. America does have about 15 times as many guns as Britain per capita, and far fewer restrictions on their ownership and use. Thats the obvious correlation staring us in the face, as we insist on talking about every other possible issue. …

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