President Obama Links Mental Health Conditions and Gun Violence! He Needs to Hear from You!

Susan Rogers
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On January 5, 2016, President Obama held a press conference in which he perpetuated the myth that there is a link between mental health conditions and gun violence.

In response, the Campaign for Real Change in Mental Health Policy went into action, calling for people to “Tell the White House to Stop Scapegoating People with Psychiatric Diagnoses!” At the same time, the Campaign is circulating its petition, addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives, asking them to “Vote Against The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646).”

Please help! Write to President Obama, sign the petition, tweet to President Obama (@POTUS) and Valerie Jarrett (@vj44) with the hashtag #StopGunViolence, and contact your federal legislators! Every voice counts! As Edward Everett Hale famously wrote, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

The letter I wrote to President Obama follows, and includes links to more information. Please feel free to use as much of the letter as you would like!

Dear President Obama,

I voted for you twice and, if you were able (and willing) to run for a third term, I would vote for you again.

That said, I was very disappointed to hear you link mental illness and gun violence during your press conference on January 5. Linking gun violence with mental health conditions is the wrong approach because, as Vanderbilt University researchers (among many other researchers) point out, “Mental illness is the wrong scapegoat after mass shootings.”

When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness didn’t correlate with more gun deaths. But he did find one telling correlation: States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.

Between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 120,000 gun-related homicides, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Few were perpetrated by people with mental illness .

To quote from a federal government website, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

I know you agree that we need tougher gun control laws, such as were adopted in Australia after a mass shooting there in 1996 – and which resulted in a huge decrease in gun violence. I wish that Congress agreed with you.

Thank you for reading this,

Susan Rogers

28 COMMENTS

  1. We need approaches which are not based on the illusion that if we somehow “make a convincing argument” that the ruling forces will agree with our logic and relent. We also need for what currently constitutes the anti-psychiatry movement to fight this without succumbing to the degrading terminologies of the system we are supposedly trying to eradicate.

    Petitions are not a viable way of creating change; the system breathes a sigh of relief when it becomes clear that reaction to their machinations will be limited to a couple of impressive petitions. Internet petitions are sort of like people going to church on Sunday so they can assuage their guilt about the rest of their lives.

    We can effectively fight the Murphy mentality without compromising our integrity and self-respect, by speaking as uncompromisingly anti-psychiatry former victims of this system who now reject it, not as “consumers” who want the system to give them a little more slack. Only well articulated anti-psychiatry analyses will appeal to people who are tired of bs from all sides; anything less will be correctly recognized as full of contradictions, naivete and wishful thinking.

    Additionally, as far as Murphy per se is concerned, we need to focus on stopping “Outpatient Assisted Treatment” and deemphasize the whole SAMSHA funding thing; while there are exceptions, in general no government funding comes without the expectation that in order to keep it you will grovel and ask how high every time they say jump. We don’t need this SAMSHA stuff clouding the issues.

    Hopefully there will be more articles forthcoming which tackle this crisis in a more analytical way. But this at least is a start for now; so, let the discussion ensue, and let’s try to be creative.

    BTW this is a law enforcement/justice system issue, not a “health care” debate. Any strategy which does not recognize this is doomed to failure.

    • I agree with Oldhead, and would add that the type of measures Obama is proposing won’t make a big difference either way. Guns in America are not a major cause of death relative to other causes like obesity, diabetes, smoking, etc. Guns killed about 30,000 people last year (CDC figures), which is nothing to sniff at until you realize that smoking-related illnesses killed 400,000 and complications from diabetes

      Even if Obama’s laws get passed, gun deaths will not significantly decline. Vox website recently had an article convincingly arguing that the only way to significantly reduce gun deaths is for there to be far fewer guns in America, like in England or Australia – i.e. to confiscate most guns – and that is not politically possible at the moment.

      So focusing on guns is mostly a waste of time. While people are worrying about the minor threats of guns and Islamic terrorism, far more important issues are ignored: the national debt of $19 trillion, rising rates of poverty and inequality, climate change, and long-term fossil fuel depletion without renewables scaling up fast enough.

      I do agree with Susan that much tougher gun laws involving confiscation should be enacted as Australia did. But that will probably only happen after several horrific large scale incidents, perhaps after a Beslan-style attack in America where multiple gunmen murders hundreds of children at a school. That’s how dumb and blind most Americans are about facing the harm that having more guns per capita available causes.

      As for “mental illness”, emotionally-suffering people are facing much bigger issues that discrimination related to guns, including forced treatment i.e. the Murphy law, and from the whole psychiatric practice of diagnosing and drugging which is nothing more than illusory pseudoscience but which causes massive harm.

      I would like to write to President Obama and tell him to stop ignorantly using the stupid term mental illness. But I know he won’t read my letter.

      • Glad you agree with my main point but I disagree with you as usual about some of your conclusions. Confiscating guns would mean that only the military, the police, and criminals would have guns. (Plus lots of other people who slip through the cracks or simply refuse to cooperate.) That’s still a lot of firepower. The “gun control” debate is primarily a question of who controls the guns, and is inherently contradictory. (How do they “control” someone with a gun anyway except with an armed enforcer?) But this is really beside the point.

        I really don’t want to see this discussion degenerate into another “gun control” debate, because despite the pretenses that’s not “our” issue and as such constitutes a diversion. The primary issue for us is having everyone ever to receive a “mental health” diagnosis that made it to some federal data base being automatic placed on a “no gun” list — once established is there anyone here who believes that list would only be used to blackball survivors who wish to have the means to defend themselves?

        But goddamn, do I hope I turn out to be wrong!

        • Oldhead,

          Thank you for your thoughts. It is always strange to me that people think guns will be any use against military forces that have tanks, cruise missiles, artillery, helicopters, nuclear subs, and nuclear bombs. If our leading military generals turned against the people, our guns would be no use. Guns are only a deterrant if the government/military doesn’t bring out the big guns. That’s why to me the essential situation in Australia/England compared to America is really not so different. In Australia and England citizens do have fewer defenses against governments which also have advanced militaries. But I wouldn’t say the American citizens are much better off, because their peashooters would be no use against our army, navy, and air forces.

          Anyway luckily I think this worry about a rogue military is only speculation, because I don’t think most of our military leaders are suddenly going to turn their weapons on the people.

          I agree with you totally that illusory mental illness diagnoses should have nothing to do with who does or doesn’t have guns. And yes the bigger issue by far is the entire psychiatric industrial complex of diagnosing and drugging that is doing far more damage on its own than whatever rhetoric is out there right now about mental illnesses and guns.

          • My point is that this is not about guns, that’s just a pretext, and no matter what your position is, arguing about “gun violence” as though it’s the real issue is falling into that trap. The issue is totalitarianism in the guise of “mental health.”

      • I looked up the CDC figures (unfinished paragraph) and see that diabetes complications were around 80,000 deaths, smoking related deaths were close to 400,000, cancer deaths were over 1 million, heart disease was close to 1 million.

        In other words preventable lifestyle factors – especially those preventable by good diet, exercise, and not taking the poisoned pills of American medicine – kill orders of magnitude more people every year than guns (which kill around 30,000).

        Yet the media is constantly filled with whining about guns that kill far less people… and people are scared to death of Islamic terrorists that haven’t done anything significant since Sept 11 2011… etc etc. Meanwhile these worrying people are getting fat sitting on their couches eating potato chips not realizing where the bigger danger to their longevity is coming from.

        Here are some of the boring numbers –

        http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf

        • I like the argument you are making about the sheer numbers of deaths, but I feel like there is also an implicit argument in your comment that Americans in general are lazy and stupid (and I’m also thinking of other, similar comments you’ve made) and that their deaths from “lifestyle” factors are the results of free and informed choices. I don’t think that is fair or accurate.

          I’m not denying that there are choices involved, but I think it’s much more complicated than you’ve made out. I think this is important to say, because if we accept the narrative that you seem to be conveying, then it might follow to say that people in the US are getting what they deserve because of their supposed laziness and stupidity. In other words, it feels like a version of blame-the-victim, even if that’s not what was intended.

          • Uprising,

            I don’t think all Americans are dumb and lazy (a lot, not all). There are many well-informed people, just not nearly enough.

            Of course the situation is more complicated. With regard to poor diet and lack of exercise, Americans are subject to many pressures outside of their control:

            – large-scale advertising of unhealthy foods
            – necessity for commuting in cars, unwalkable neighborhoods
            – insanely large restaurant meal and grocery portion sizes
            – unhealthy sugar/corn oil in foods
            – so many distractions like TV, phones and computers that are easier than exercising
            – sedentary jobs.

            Americans probably have more pressures of this kind than almost any other advanced nation, and especially compared to parts of Europe.

            But the other side of this is that if people want to be healthy they have to take responsibility for themselves. Americans keep voting in the same candidates who maintain the status quo in terms of giving power to corporations that are harming them in many of the ways listed above. Too few Americans opt out by not purchasing the poisoned offerings of the corporations or by voting for a truly revolutionary candidate who will reject the established power structure.

            I have to say it is sad to see the ignorance of most American people, especially in the Midwest and south, in relation to the news. Many of these people really think that Islamic terrorism is an immediate existential threat, that gay marriage or abortion or gun rights are the biggest issues facing the nation, among other silly things. As I said above, these glittery objects are convenient distractions that the powers that be are happy for the ignorant sheep to worry about. Meanwhile larger issues like climate change, national debt, long-term energy planning (e.g. fossil fuel depletion) are not even mentioned… which conveniently allows the corporations and the 1% to continue their stripmining of the economy with probably horrible long-term consequences for future generations.

            I wish I could be but I’m not very hopeful about this situation being changed and that is mostly due to our people’s ignorance and unwillingness (or maybe it’s inability) to think or act differently.

          • if we accept the narrative that you seem to be conveying, then it might follow to say that people in the US are getting what they deserve because of their supposed laziness and stupidity.

            I wouldn’t say we’re getting what we “deserve,” but maybe what we should expect. I think people have a responsibility to be aware of what they are supporting as a result of not dealing with it. Even if we have been conditioned to enslave ourselves to unhealthy addictive lifestyles which contribute to U.S. corporate exploitation of the entire planet, we have a responsibility to become aware of this and resist it, just as prisoners of war are expected to try to escape.

          • Prisoners of war remember being captured.

            I would add to BPDT’s list of potential causes for “poor lifestyle choices”:

            Smoking greatly reduces feelings of hunger.

            People cannot purchase healthy food if they don’t have money, or if they live in a food desert.

            If you are hungry enough, you will eat anything.

            It’s hard to prepare meals without a kitchen, or when working multiple jobs with ever-changing schedules.

            There is poison just about everywhere, including the food supply (and especially in the foods that poor people can access), because of inadequate regulation of corporations by the government.

            51% of all American workers make less than 30,000 dollars a year.

            As far as “ignorance,” I think it’s important keep in mind that we are the most media-saturated (read: propagandized) people in the history of people.

            I think it’s also important to recognize that the more time that people are forced to dedicate to basic survival, the less time they have left for critical thinking and investigation.

            And also remember that many (most?) of us are subjected to over a decade at least of mandatory mis-education during our most impressionable years that rewards unquestioning obedience and docility, while punishing critical and independent thinking.

          • the more time that people are forced to dedicate to basic survival, the less time they have left for critical thinking and investigation.

            This is true and always has been — there’s a scene in Norma Rae where the IWW (I think) labor organizer shouts to the boss, “The American working man is not stupid, he just gets tired!”

            Still, human resilience gives us to ability to overcome obstacles even if takes a long time to figure out how; otherwise I’d be feeling pretty hopeless right around now. And for whatever reason the American people are getting more sheep-like even when many know we’re living in a bs system and getting screwed more & more all the time. (Mumia Abu-Jamal, world-renowned US political prisoner, describes those of us living outside of actual prisons as being in “minimum security.”)

      • Also, it might be useful to pin down what a politician means about additional funding for mental health. Too often people on the political left off-handily refer to the large number of “mentally ill” in prisons. Wether they mean to or not, I think this conjures up in people’s minds the need for funding for old-fashioned psychiatric treatment.

        • This letter writer, who self-identified as poor and mentally ill, put it very well.

          “As a taxpayer and a mentally ill individual, I cannot support [an author’s] requests for additional funding for “behavioral and social sciences.” It is simply a waste of money and it saps valuable resources out of the economy into programs that falsely raise peoples’ hopes and [support] an elitist class of academics who exploit human misery for financial gain without directly taking responsibility for delivery of real-world solutions.

          “But I no longer believe [I will get well] because the gap between the real world and the world of NIMH researchers and staff is too wide.There is a quality control crisis in public mental health, not a funding crisis as many would like us to believe.

          http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-research-funding-20130715-story.html

  2. Susan Rogers’ letter to President Obama left me elated. She attacked the defamatory blaming of mental illness for the nation’s gun violence. Rogers’ letter was a call for action from the mental health community — a vast but mostly silent segment of the population. It’s a community that has yet to deliver its clout. There may be many ways to achieve progressive reform and I think we should support them all.

    • In terms of policies like stricter buying rules, Obama’s gun control ideas are not going to make any significant difference either way. A few less people might die, but it won’t be prove-able that Obama’s actions caused this. The main “achievement” will be the feel-good illusion that Obama has done something. As noted, only having far fewer guns total has been shown to correlate with fewer deaths, in countries like Australia and England. So Obama’s posturing is purely political and will do nothing to significantly reduce gun deaths.

      The important thing to see is that gun sales within the US will remain relatively high whatever Obama does and thereforethe NRA and their corporate 1% masters will remain happy. We should expect mass murders to continue every few weeks, while realizing that they constitute far less of a death toll than other insidious silent causes and far less of a toll than gun deaths from suicide and 1-person homicides.

      Honestly I don’t think gun control is worth worrying about that much. It’s sad to think of how much time and money is wasted on this issue when several decades from now the lives of billions could be under threat due to climate change, fossil fuels, clean water, etc. becoming increasingly scarce/expensive, global debt collapsing economies, etc.

      And as you said oldhead these issues are separate from the main social control issues associated with diagnosis/drugging/”mental illness”. The gun/mental illness debate is being structured as if mental illness were a discrete thing separable from normality and this simply reinforces the diagnosing, drugging, brain disease myth.

    • I was horrified when I saw the part about Medicare reporting mental diagnoses to some agency. It won’t make a dent on murder rates, and not just because diagnosed people are not especially violent, unless SSRIs have begun to change that. Even if they were more violent, being on a list won’t make them less violent. It might make them less likely to use guns, but there’s always the Molotov Cocktail. It will make them less likely to own guns, though. A diagnosed person who takes comfort in owning a pistol–and this includes single women, and many in low-income, high-crime areas–will be deprived of that comfort. They’ll also be sitting ducks once word gets out that their homes are gun-free zones.

      Obama? Pure pandering. If he cared about crime he would have fired Holder years ago for failing to prosecute the too big too jail crowd–Moynihan, Mozilo, Dimon…

  3. They know this is pure scapegoating, we shouldn’t give them the cop-out of being confused or misinformed. They also think people are stupid, but they aren’t.

    Listening off & on to talk radio the past few days has been surreal; the consensus among people I hear calling in is that they will be much more reticent in the future to seek out counseling or “mental health treatment” knowing that “the government is a third party in the room.” Vets don’t want to risk being labeled PTSD and having their guns confiscated. People who have sought professional help for depression following a relative’s death, women with PMS, those receiving counseling to deal with job loss, ad infinitum are hip to how all that could now be used against them. I encourage the talkers among us to consider jumping in and calling these shows — especially the ones with more locally-oriented hosts.

    As far as them knowing this has nothing to do with “gun violence” — Uprising posted a government release saying that about 75,000 recipients of federal disability for “mental” reasons who are deemed unable to manage their assets or have been adjudged legally incompetent will be put on the “crazy list” (Limbaugh’s term I think but I like it). So, exactly how many mass shootings have been carried out by people on disability who have trouble managing their funds or are legally incompetent? Anyone with those figures please post them, especially if the number is greater than zero.

  4. Um, sorry to have to write this, but saying you voted for him twice and then would offer to do it again and THEN be critical of this pathetically politically partisan agenda of blaming the easiest people to scapegoat, because the mentally ill as a demographic are the least likely to vote, well, a bit disingenuous at least?

    Besides, as long as both providers and too many alleged spokespersons for the mentally ill want to include antisocial personality disorder as mental health disorders, well, then you give ammunition, both figuratively and literally to these clueless folks.

    Hey, what do I know, just practicing psychiatry for 20+ years, and watching the same lame dialogue every election cycle. Look up George Carlin’s summary in his 1996 show “Back in Town”, the last 5 minutes, to know who really is to blame for poor political representation.

    Joel Hassman, MD

  5. Reading back over all this I guess that, Obama aside, there’s no reason not to sign the congressional petition, as long as you don’t mind your name being on another government list of malcontents. But if people are going to work in this arena it would be good if a more explicitly anti-psychiatry position could be articulated.