After recent mass shootings, there have been calls to ease the strict standards guiding involuntary mental health treatment to give authorities greater ability to detain and compel the treatment of mentally ill people they fear could become a risk to the community, even if they aren’t imminently one at the time of their interaction with the person.
The question of using the civil mental health system to involuntarily detain someone who hasn’t committed a crime, but who we fear may commit one at some point in the future is fundamentally one of human rights. It risks making it easier to commit the terrible injustice of unnecessarily taking away the freedom of mentally ill people who pose no real risk to public safety. There are many ways to prevent mass murder that we should be discussing, including the quality of mental health treatment we provide, but calling for more involuntary mental health commitments isn’t one of them.
Of course, mental illness shouldn’t be ignored. But it is often discussed in a way that is dishonest and inaccurate in the context of mass shootings. And it reinforces an effort to redirect the conversation away from guns and their effect on our culture.
Too often in American politics, corporate interests such as the gun industry are able to displace their costs onto people unrepresented by lobbyists and super PACs — people like the mentally ill. If we continue to scapegoat them with the convenient myth of the “psycho killer,” we are precluded from recognizing which factors do contribute to homicides in the United States.
- The Atlantic: Locking Up People for Mental Illness Won’t Stop Killers (politicaloutcast.com)
- Op-Ed Contributor: Why Can’t Doctors Identify Killers? (rss.nytimes.com)
- Santa Barbara shootings: Would a ‘gun restraining order’ have helped? (+video) (csmonitor.com)
- The Divide Over Involuntary Mental Health Treatment (wnyc.org)