(This topic was originally entered in December, 2012.)
Our mental health system has been put on the back-burner for years, the victim of constant cuts by politicians, hell bent on administering austerity measures. Cutting vital services without fully knowing the consequences of their actions leads to a cataclysmic disaster. There is no question that the perpetrator in Friday’s slaughter of 20 children and 6 other people in Newtown, Connecticut was a direct result of poor mental health screening.
This elimination of mental health services can be traced back to the late 70’s when then-Governor Ronald Regan started closing state-funded mental health hospitals in California to balance the state’s budget. Other conservative governments across the United States followed suit.
It was through no coincidence that homeless populations in the state of California and across the country grew in the seventies and eighties. Those patients were put out on the street when mental hospitals started to close. Because of the lack of treatment, some of those patients would commit heinous crimes.
One such case was Herbert William Mullin, a serial killer who committed 13 murders in California in the early 1970’s. Mullin suffered from schizophrenia and had been in and out of mental institutions from his childhood. Seeing an increase in crime, the California state legislature passed a law that would stop Reagan from closing even more state-funded mental health hospitals.
Later as president he would cut aid for federally-funded community mental health programs. In 1980, Congress proposed new legislation called the Community Mental Health Systems Act, co-authored by Ted Kennedy. But the program was killed by newly-elected President Ronald Reagan in 1981. This action essentially ended federal community mental health programs and it’s funding. (Ironically, President Reagan survived an assassination attempt that year. His assassin was John Hinckley, who was found “not guilty by reason of insanity”.)
Simply put, we can no longer allow our mental health system be put on hold. The increase of crime being done by suspects with mental health issues continue to spike and puts the general population at risk. It’s all a matter of whether were strong enough to face our fears and break the stigma of shunning mental health.