Blog


The shootings in Connecticut and Texas add to the gravity of our nation's gun violence epidemic. In this politically-charged issue, there is at least one solution about which the NRA and gun control advocates agree--the need for comprehensive mental health treatment to be available to those individuals in desperate need of it.

The Department of Justice reports that over 50 percent of male inmates meet criteria for a severe mental illness, compared to 5-15 percent of the general population. The prevalence of female inmates with severe mental illness is even higher, at approximately 65 percent. When you add to this the prevalence of inmates with chemical dependency, nearly 80 percent of inmates can be accounted for, many with both mental illness and chemical dependency.

Gun violence exists in every community in the US. Winnetka, IL experienced a school shooting in 1988 when a mentally ill woman took several handguns into Hubbard Woods School and shot several children and adults and murdered a young boy. I am a licensed clinical psychologist. I can tell you that the diagnosis of severe mental illness is generally easy to obtain, whereas the treatment options available are practically nonexistent.

The Office of Mental Health within the State of Illinois is so poorly funded that nearly every application for an Individual Care Grant (ICG) is rejected, despite most applicants having years of documented need for intensive mental health services. If a child or adolescent is diagnosed with a medical illness, there is a complete system of care to provide support, which is covered by private insurance or public programs. If they are diagnosed with a severe mental illness or chemical dependency, high quality, long-term treatment options are limited to those with the ability to privately pay for services. Many programs report very good clinical outcomes, but very few people have the financial resources to access these programs. Instead, their problems worsen, many develop addictions, many join gangs, many break the law, many engage in violent crime, and several commit murder.

The vicious cycle must end, and it can end by funding early, intensive special education and mental health programs that are effective, efficient, and will be accepted by both the gun lobby and those who wish to control access to guns. Republicans, democrats, liberals, and conservatives can significantly reduce gun violence by funding mental health, special education and chemical dependency programs. It is not only politically feasible, it is effective, efficient, and will save lives.