Opinion: It’s time for this country to talk about mental illness


Maggie Wachtel is a sophomore public relations major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Maggie Wachtel

Two students were killed and three were injured after a student opened fire at Marysville-Pilchuck high school in Washington on Friday.

Headlines like these have become all too familiar, and the debate always centers on the gun. How did the person get it? Did he or she have a permit? Was the gun legal?

Since 1982, 61 mass murders involving guns have occurred in the United States, according to The Huffington Post. Most of the shooters had obtained legal permits for the gun. It’s easy to talk about guns when it is the weapon that’s killing people, but what really needs to be talked about is mental illness.

Following the fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school by Adam Lanza in 2012, The Huffington Post published a story titled ‘I am Adam Lanza’s mother’: a mom’s perspective on the mental health conversation in America.

The story is true and was written by a mother who struggles with a 13-year-old mentally ill son. Her son experiences violent outbursts and often threatens to kill himself and others when he gets angry. She has had him committed to a mental hospital multiple times, but with no clear diagnosis, he is always released after a 72-hour hold.

She was told her only option going forward was to charge her son with a crime. But what parent wants to send their 13-year-old mentally ill child to prison? A person experiencing mental illness might suffer from some form of anxiety. The chaos of a prison would only make his or her condition worse. But prisons seem to be a dumping site for the mentally ill when all other options have run out.

According to the Human Rights Watch, mental illness in prisoners is 56 percent higher than people who are not in prison. And the number of inmates suffering from mental illness quadrupled from 2000 to 2006.

Congress finally decided to act in the summer of 2014. Six people were killed and 13 were injured after a gunman went on a shooting rampage on the campus of University of California Santa Barbara. That shooting prompted the House of Representatives to approve $19.5 million to help states add mental health records when doing background checks, according to Pacific Standard Magazine.

When someone is released from an initial 72-hour hold, they do not always get committed. And there is nothing to limit them from going out and buying a firearm.

I do think having access to mental health records will help, but not much. Where do you draw the line? What kind of mental illness or bizarre behavior do people have to display for them to be prohibited from purchasing a gun?

In the case of the Santa Barbara shooter, Elliot Rodger, his family did try to have him committed to a mental hospital. But there was not enough evidence to prove he was a danger to himself or others, and he was released and able to obtain a gun, which ultimately lead to devastating consequences.

The nation’s mental healthcare system is broken. With the stigmas placed on mental illness, the situation will only continue to get worse. It’s time for a change; we cannot just sit around and wait for the next tragedy. Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

 Contact Maggie Wachtel at [email protected].