“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation…”
Oh Donald, Donald, Donald, where do I start with this one? As 26 people lay dead in Texas with a further 20 wounded, victims of another mass shooting massacre, the US must, again, ask searching questions about the price it is prepared to pay for upholding the Constitution’s 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Or, alternatively, it can adopt the wilful blindness and ignorance of Commander In Chief Trump and utterly fail to take a long, hard look at the complex issues that are costing the lives of Americans young and old at an alarming rate.
For the sake of dear Donald let’s start, fittingly, with the simple and the obvious: if you or I were to spend the last seconds of our lives staring down the barrel of a gun I think we would agree that there is a gun situation. Whatever leads the individual perpetrator to have a gun in his or her hand clearly requires scrutiny if such tragedies are to be averted, and may I suggest that the ready availability of deadly weapons might, just might, be a factor that bears some consideration. Whatever fuels the motivations of the individuals that perpetrate such horrifying massacres, the fact remains that the means of their wanton destruction of human life are provided to citizens with the consent of the state. As such the state must acknowledge its culpability and determine whether the price paid by innocent citizens is a price that it is prepared to accept.
From this side of the Atlantic it can be easy to say that banning firearms is the answer but in a relatively peaceful, stable and free democracy it can be easy to overlook an important principle that underpins this constitutional right – the protection of citizens from the power of the federal state. Given the way that Mssrs Trump and Jong-un have been waving their dicks around in their global ego war, is it so easy to discount the purpose and value of such a right? I wouldn’t trust either of those two to have their fingers on the buttons of my toaster never mind a thermonuclear weapons arsenal.But let’s discount this talk of constitutions and the relative rights of the citizen and the state because it’s not a gun situation anyway, it’s those bloody mental people that are the problem isn’t it? Those slavering, psychotic evil-doers that spoil it for all the good, God-fearing owners of semi-automatic weaponry.
Ok, let’s consider this from another point of view because I’m getting sick of the way mental illness gets casually thrown around as an easy explanation for the depraved acts of profoundly disturbed individuals. While blaming mental illness may appease the might of the US gun lobby and absolve the state of any responsibility, it further reinforces the fear and stigma that surrounds mental ill health and further alienates and isolates those that need help. Mental health is a huge and complex issue and to be addressed it needs to be better understood. People fear what they don’t understand and can’t control and ignorance partnered with authority offers a fertile – and potentially dangerous – breeding ground for stigma, prejudice and discrimination (just ask the Daily Mail).
We have a mental health situation – UK statistics tell us that 1 in 4 of us will suffer mental health problems in any given year. Given this fact, does mental illness pose a risk to society? Should mental illness frighten us? Well, it poses a risk to the economy – recent estimates from the Thriving at Work report (October 2017) place the cost of poor mental health to the UK economy at £99 billion each year. Such statistics ought to frighten Conservative MPs but what about the rest of us, what do we have to fear from people with mental health problems?
Despite President Trump’s towering ignorance, the facts (the idea that if you’re going to spout your mouth off about something important you should actually be able to, you know, back it up) suggest something very different to what his orangeness insinuates. According to the British Crime Survey only 1% of victims of violent crime believed that the incident happened because the offender had a mental illness. By contrast, 47% believed their attacker was under the influence of alcohol.
Shall I tell you who is really at risk from people with mental health problems? People with mental health problems.
The biggest risk that people with mental health problems pose is to themselves. 90% of those that commit suicide are experiencing mental distress. And if you are a man aged between 20 and 49 living in the UK then the biggest threat to your life is you.
Donald, we in UK also have a mental health situation. But Donald, we do not have a guns situation. And Donald, guess what? We don’t have massacre after massacre ripping the hearts out of our communities and destroying lives in our schools and churches with terrifying regularity. There are many reasons for us to be grateful for that and for me there is a very personal reason to be grateful – if guns were legally available to buy in the UK there is a very real probability that I wouldn’t be here today, that I would be just another statistic, another life claimed by mental illness.
And that’s why I harp on about it, because I know the darkest places to which mental illness can take you. I know how lonely, how isolating, how terrifying those places are. And I know how difficult it is to escape them. I also know that it is possible to do so, with the right care, treatment and support.
This is why it is so important to speak out against ignorance and stigma, because if we don’t then we risk condemning those that need help and support to a silent prison from which they feel there is no escape. We condemn people that face the very real risks of isolation, loss of family, loss of friends, and loss of employment, to the possibility of having to fight alone in a battle that is so very very difficult to win.
If we are going to point the finger at mental health problems then let’s also point the finger at some of the social factors that can trigger mental illness – poverty, homelessness, unemployment, the trauma of fighting our wars – and let’s ask our politicians what they are going to do about these things that can present a real and present danger to any of us. Let us also challenge them to provide the mental healthcare that is so seriously lacking.
I’d like to finish with a final suggestion for Donald: if you really do believe that mass shootings are a mental health issue, and if you sincerely do want to reduce the opportunity for people with mental health problems to shoot people, then you may want to revisit the decision that you took in February to revoke gun checks on people with mental illnesses. Just a thought. I mean, we wouldn’t want people thinking you are clueless now would we?
The Love Song – Marilyn Manson