Will Rush to Address Mental Health, Gun Violence Bring Meaningful Change?


After the Newtown, Ct., school shooting, a growing number of state and national politicians are promoting a focus on mental illness as a way to help prevent further killings. The New York Times says legislation to revise mental health laws is under consideration in at least a half-dozen states. Critics say this focus unfairly singles out people with serious mental illness, who are involved in only about 4 percent of violent crimes and are 11 or more times as likely than the general population to be the victims of violent crime.

Proposals like strengthening mental health services, lowering the threshold for involuntary commitment, and stiffening requirements for reporting worrisome patients to authorities may be unlikely to repair a broken mental health system, some experts say. “Good intentions without thought make for bad laws, and I think we have a risk of that,” said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego who has studied rampage killers. Some experts say politicians' efforts might be better spent making the process of involuntary psychiatric commitment — and the criteria for restricting gun access once someone has been forcibly committed — consistent from state to state. Some proposals have raised questions about doctor-patient confidentiality, the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities, and the integrity of clinical judgment.

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