After Shooting, Will Mental Health Practices Change?

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Jared Loughner, the man who killed six and injured 14 in a Tucson Safeway on Saturday, appears to have suffered from severe mental illness. While there's been much discussion of whether an overheated national discourse played a role in the Tucson shooting, and questions about what changes, if any, will be made to the nation's gun laws, another conversation is taking shape around the country's mental health care system, and whether anything could have been done to prevent Saturday's tragedy. Below, a sampling of some of the arguments:

  • We Have to Make it Easier to Commit People, declares William Galston at The New Republic. "We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged," Galston writes. "The law should no longer require, as a condition of involuntary incarceration, that seriously disturbed individuals constitute a danger to themselves or others. ... A delusional loss of contact with reality should be enough to trigger a process that starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance and ends with involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary."

  • Personal Rights Can't Be the Priority, agrees Mona Charen in a piece for Creators Syndicate. "Widespread deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, along with laws that require proof of dangerousness before a person can be involuntarily subjected to treatment, make it exceedingly difficult to stop a crazed gunman before his murderous spree," writes Charen. "A misplaced respect for personal autonomy--the right to reject treatment--arguably carries too high a price, particularly now when pharmacological treatment is so benign, and when the kinds of crimes committed by the untreated mentally ill are so heinous."

  • Our Mental Health Care System Is a Disgrace, writes Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic.

Private insurance rarely provides enough coverage for the seriously ill, overwhelming public systems to the point where people who could benefit from therapy, drugs, and community supports--frequently living totally normal, productive lives--instead end up without treatment and sometimes without homes. Inevitably some of these people end up committing crimes ... After a major disaster, like an airliner crash or terrorist incident, we conduct thorough investigations to determine what caused the tragedy and how we might avoid another one like it. This occasion calls for a similar response."

  • There's Too Much of a Stigma Attached to Mental Illness, says Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway. "If you have you have a physical problem, this is considered something beyond your control that needs rectification," Taylor writes. "However, if one has a mental disorder that requires treatment it is often considered a weakness from within ... Perhaps at some point in the not too-distant future it will be easier for parents to do for their children with mental problems what they currently do for children with physical problems."

  • And Policymakers Don't Take it Seriously  Zachary Roth for Yahoo News writes that "cuts to Arizona's mental-health services wiped out funding for the kind of early detection and intervention programs that might have steered the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, into treatment." Roth adds that "behind the lack of funding is a more stubborn problem--that policymakers often don't view mental illnesses as requiring the same order of treatment that physical disorders do."

  • Now's Your Moment, Obama, argues Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect. "Mental health services in the United States are extremely lacking," Bouie writes. "Overall, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country gets a 'D' grade for its mental health care system. I, for one, would rather see Obama push for improved mental health services--and maybe a little gun control--rather than indulge in another pedantic call for 'civility' and 'bipartisanship.' Civility won't change anything, but better mental health care will save lives and families."

  • Psychiatry Professor: We Can't Separate Mental Illness From Political Climate  Greg Sargent at The Washington Post speaks with Dr. Marvin Swartz, a psychiatry professor at Duke, who argues that "the nature of someone's delusions is affected by culture. It's a reasonable line of inquiry to ask, 'How does a political culture affect the content of people's delusions?'" Swartz added that "while we don't know whether there was a specific relationship between the political climate that he was exposed to and his thinking, it's a reasonable line of inquiry to explore."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.