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Access to Guns vs Mental Health Services

I was very sad to learn of the massacre that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT on Friday. It is devastating to think that someone could be so deeply troubled he could open fire on young children.

The debate regarding whether we should have stricter gun control laws has already come back to the forefront, despite people’s attempts to silence it. I hope that this time we will engage in the debate, at least long enough to try and prevent something like this from happening again.

Yes, people will be violent no matter how much you try to restrict their access to weapons. Yes, the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to have and bear arms. But the bottom line is you can kill a lot more people a lot more quickly and with a lot less effort using an automatic or semi-automatic gun than with your bare hands, a knife, or even a gun that only shoots one bullet at a time. We need to make auto/semi-auto weapons and high-capacity clips inaccessible to civilians.

Beyond that, I’m inclined to agree with people who believe we should regulate guns at least as much as we regulate cars. Still make them accessible, but require some proof that owners will use them responsibly. (I know the shooter on Friday stole the weapon he used, but most mass shooters obtain their weapons legally.)

I’ve heard some other arguments that I believe are worth considering in discussions of how to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. One is that violence is glamorized in the media; this encourages or at least condones use of violence in real life. Another is that there is a significant connection between mental health problems and mass shootings, including the one that occurred on Friday.

As a person with serious mental illness, I’ve been struggling with a lot of very intense emotions – especially anger. As recently as December 3rd, I felt so overwhelmingly angry I wanted to feel the full force of my body being as destructive as possible, and I admitted that my desire to do so in a room full of breakable objects was a compromise with my respect for human life. Thank goodness I was with someone who could listen to me talk about these feelings and help me work through them! If that hadn’t been the case …

Well, I don’t have access to semi-automatic weapons. But I was driving a car.

This was a week after I’d made an appointment to see Psychiatrist B. In order to make this appointment, I kept having to call what I imagine must have been a bureaucratic call center and was told several times I’d be called back. They called back when I was in class or otherwise unavailable. When a human finally called and I was able to answer, she said that the subject I’m studying in school “isn’t depressing” – when, actually, it involves learning about some of the most painful experiences a person can have – and asked me extremely awkward questions, such as “what makes you cry?” Never ask a person with depression what makes zir cry. Answering that question requires one to think about things that make one cry, and that’s the last thing a person with depression needs. Ze probably does it way too often already!

After that conversation, I felt like committing suicide. A week later, I was arguably angry enough to commit homicide. Nine days later, I shut out the whole world – fortunately including my therapist, who expressed enough concern in her voice mail messages (which I chose to listen to, by the way) to break through my withdrawal and get me to reconnect with her. Fortunately, in my case reducing the anger was as simple as not taking a prescribed medication anymore. What if I’d needed something more complicated?

Finally, 15 days later, I met with Psychiatrist B. But before I could see him I had to hand someone my health insurance card, read several pages of literature, and sign many forms. I worried that the information I put on the form might cause the mental healthcare provider to deny me the help I so desperately needed. I had to disclose a lot of personal information: where I live, who I live with, my source of income, substance use history, criminal history, my religion, my age, my weight, my sex (there was no place to indicate gender identity), my sexual orientation, and so on.

Only after I’d filled out all the forms, and paid my copay, and signed my soul away, did I get to meet with Psychiatrist B. It was almost an hour after I had arrived. The appointment went well, but what if it hadn’t? The medication he prescribed probably won’t even take effect for another month, at least. I’m a resourceful person with health insurance who cares a lot about other people and knows how painful it is to lose a loved one too well to willingly inflict that upon another human being. And I have a good social support network, including an excellent therapist.

What about the people who don’t?

Links:

Twelve Facts about Guns and Mass Shootings in the U.S.

Why are mass shootings becoming more frequent?

Mass Shootings: Maybe What We Need is a Better Mental Health Policy

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