In our society there is a stigma that surrounds mental illness. People do not like to talk about it, and as a result, it is generally swept under the rug.
In recent months, the tired topic has been gun control. Politicians react to horrific violence and debate whether or not our gun laws are sufficient to keep the public safe.
There have been no studies to show that guns — which are inanimate objects — are making the conscious effort to kill the innocent. This happens often in society. We see a problem, and instead of digging to find the root of it, we squabble over how to treat the symptoms.
According to a recent report by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), between 2009 and 2011, states cumulatively cut more than $1.8 billion dollars from their budgets for mental health services.
Idaho made the eighth highest budget cuts in the country on their mental health services, from the fiscal years of 2009 to 2011. This means the legislature cut 17.9 percent from the budget, which came out to $10.2 million dollars.
Doug McKnight, president of NAMI Idaho, said people don’t understand that when someone suffers from a mental illness, their criminal behavior is as much a choice as getting cancer is a choice.
Not all who suffer from a mental illness are prone to criminal behavior; it would be incredibly unjust to suggest so. Unfortunately, there are those who have been caught up in the criminal court system.
Jane Roberts, president of the Upper Valley Idaho NAMI chapter, has experienced two of her sons being arrested during episodes of mental illness. Her son Kenny has been arrested three times.
“He got loud and he got angry — he ended up in jail for trespassing and disturbing the peace,” Roberts said. “They just lose it. They don’t know what’s going on: they’re just reacting to their inner turmoil.”
A study by NAMI estimates that 31 percent of female inmates and 14 percent of male inmates in the United States live with serious mental illness.
“Roughly a third of the prison population in Idaho suffers from mental illness,” McKnight said. “So it’s a huge issue, and the Department of Corrections is working the best they can to provide mental health support to those folks in the prison, but most of them shouldn’t even be in there.”
Rexburg is one of the few cities in the country with a mental health court system.
While the mental health court system has been deemed effective not only by those who participate, but also by Idaho law makers and NAMI, it’s a program that is scarce in the more rural areas of Idaho and throughout the country.
While the country’s mental health systems are suffering, politicians are spending their time writing and putting through partisan laws to head off only the possibility of future rumored laws.
The rumors that President Barak Obama may put through a law to violate citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms sparked a reaction from Idaho legislators. An Idaho House committee recently approved a bill which prohibits any deputy sheriff, or other government worker from assisting federal agents who are confiscating weapons.
The Obama Administration said that it has no plans to confiscate weapons or require national firearms registration.
This is what politicians are spending their time on. Gun safety and Second Amendment rights are important, but they will not solve gun violence.
Gun violence will not be solved while our lawmakers — or even we as citizens — are busy worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong.
It will be solved when we start to work together to understand the real problem — when we take the time to find the root.