Does America Have a Mental Health Problem?

Donald Trump: "This isn't a guns situation; this is a mental health problem at the highest level."


On Sunday, November 5, a man shot up a church located in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing up to 26 people, making this the United State's 307th mass shooting this year. Donald Trump's response left a few baffled as he spoke about mental health but did not talk about any policy in the question. Earlier in the year, he revoked Obama's gun regulations for the mentally ill, giving them access to own a gun. Is his response just a scapegoat to stop the process of vetting gun ownership, or did he just raise awareness to an issue that's been ignored for a very long time?

Americans and Mental Health

Although he did not do anything to change gun policy, he might have actually done something;  He has Americans speaking about mental health. Even after he used a word like "deranged" to describe Devin Kelley, the shooter, which according to the National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI) is stigmatizing mental illness, he had a good point. Is the U.S. undermining mental health?

First, let's look at what defines mental illness.

The media has a tendency of misrepresenting and stigmatizing mental illness. When a person is referred to as mentally ill, they are usually represented as a person who does not have awareness, has hallucinations, is reported to be using drugs and alcohol, and also has a history of violence. This isn't always the case.

NAMI says:

"A mental illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone's ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.

Recovery, including meaningful roles in social life, school and work, is possible, especially when you start treatment early and play a strong role in your own recovery process.

A mental health condition isn’t the result of one event. Research suggests multiple, linking causes. Genetics, environment and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too."

So, just about anyone can be a victim of mental illness, but how many Americans are seeking help?

Roughly 1 in 5 Americans are affected by mental illness; that's 43.8 million or 18.5% of the population each year. 

Serious mental illnesses cost America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

What do these numbers mean? 

Congress wants to cut government health care spending, but mental health is the most expensive health condition in the country.

Not enough Americans can afford to pay for their mental health, and with health care reform in the question, we should pay attention to this important detail. In 2016, there were about 27.3 million people—that's 8.6 percent of the population—who lacked health insurance coverage according to the United States Census Bureau. That's 27.3 million people without a mental health diagnosis. 

Not every mentally ill person is violent, but some mental illnesses can make a violent person.

A man by the name Michael F. Stone, Ph.D., psychoanalyst, published a study of  228 mass killings that occurred between 1913 to 2015 and concluded 52 of the killers were mentally ill; most recent, between 2000 to 2015, 48 out of the 88 killers were mentally ill. The 48 mass killers Stone identified with paranoid personality disorder; eventually, other clinicians identified a number with paranoid schizophrenia, which would have increased the finding that 32% of the mass killings were associated with serious mental illness. 

Is America's crime violence due to the lack of mental health? It's really hard to say, but it's obvious that we do have a mental health issue on our hands.

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Does America Have a Mental Health Problem?