Mental Health Matters: Prediction for 2013 (we hope it’s wrong)
It is early in a new year and a common activity for this time of the year is the psychic predictions of what will occur over the course of the next 12 months.
No one at the Canadian Mental Health Association claims to be psychic, but there is one dire prediction that has many mental-health practitioners looking at activities south of the border with more than a little concern.
What is the prediction we fear?
In the aftermath of typical navel-gazing that occurs following a mass-casualty shooting spree (usually in the United States), the debate surfaces about gun control and violence-prevention issues — and mental illness is almost always uttered in the same breath.
This time around, there is such a groundswell of feeling in the United States that “enough is enough” and it is time to limit, control and legislate powerful attack weapons, that the strong and well-organized gun lobby have turned their sights away from the “pacifists and left-wingers” and are trying to deflect the debate to the “people with mental illness who create the danger, rather than the guns designed to shoot 30 rounds a second on the battlefield.”
Blaming mental illness for these events is easy and certainly taps into sympathetic elements within both the pro- and the anti-gun ranks, dampening any enthusiasm to debate pro-gun enthusiasts with a straight-up debate on the facts about the creep of gun violence.
(“Don’t blame the gun, blame the shooter.”)
Before that strategy works, and before we in Canada or in any North American society begins to subscribe to the notion that mental illness is the problem rather than guns, here are some hard realities to think about:
• Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across America (a mass shooting is defined as one with four or more deaths).
The shootings occurred in 30 different states.
Twenty-five of these mass shootings have occurred since 2006 and seven of them have taken place in 2012.
• The number of people killed in the United States in the last four years after adding all the fatalities of mass shootings is less than 150.
Four years of massacres in America has resulted in fewer than 150 deaths.
A tragedy? Of course it is.
But, more than 12,000 people are killed by firearms in America every single year.
Even if we assign mental illness as the direct cause of 150 deaths every four years — and that is not a reflection of the truth — let us not lose sight of the 48,000 people who will be killed by guns over the same period by what we would appear to call “mentally well people.”
What is the example that might help put the gun-control debate into perspective?
In the low-gun control environment of the United States, more than 12,000 people were killed with guns in 2008.
In Japan, where there are very tight regulations, 11 people were killed with guns in 2008.
Japan had a bad year in 2008; its total for 2006 was two deaths from guns.
Everyone would agree we need to continue to reduce deaths caused by impaired driving.
Of course we all want to reduce drunk-driving deaths and, yet, the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. every year is just over 10,000 — 20 per cent fewer than what is caused by handguns.
Regulating who drives, how the privilege of driving is controlled, what a driver is allowed to do while driving and the demonstrated proficiency required to continue to drive are laws people all over the world take for granted, and we all appreciate law enforcement and governments for doing their part to make us safe on the road.
Not so for guns in America, where more than 75 per cent of the guns used in mass shootings in the last four years were obtained legally.
Here in Canada, for every headline that screams about a mentally ill person who hurts or kills someone, there are 98 victims of violence who are not properly identified as having been hurt by a “mentally well person.”
Because of the media’s predilection to tag only those violent crimes where there is a mental-illness variable, the public’s incorrect perception is that mentally ill people are violent when, in fact, mentally ill people are far more often victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
Where are the headlines about that?
So, while the gun-control debate rages in the United States over the course of 2013, please keep your perspective and remember that the problem is not mental illness, despite the efforts of the gun lobby that will work hard and spend a lot of money to make you believe that it is.
Thank you for reading our column.
If you have thoughts on this or any other issue related to mental illness, or if you have a question we might help you with, contact us at Kamloops@cmha.bc.ca because we always love to hear from you.