”A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a decades long advocate for treating and combating mental illness.
Days after the tragic funerals for the dozens needlessly slaughtered the night of Oct. 1 on the Las Vegas strip, the cries for more gun control may possible start dying down. Perhaps a more sobering discussion can follow about our nation needing to find the political will to provide a social safety net and rebuild the infrastructure to combat and improve the stability and lives of the mentally ill.
Even if Nevada had the tough gun control statutes of Illinois (which are accomplishing wonders in Chicago), there would have been virtually no way to prevent or stop the from shooter taking in a semi-automatic weapon disassembled into his hotel suite, over a period of days, then re-assembling and opening fire on the masses assembled below at a concert.
President Trump has declared a national crisis in terms of opiod addiction, and that is real, but substance abuse and its side effects are only one major off-shoot in the arenas of mental illness and addiction. With the closure of large state run institutions such as Central State Hospital in Milledgville (housing 40,000 at its peak with our state’s population millions lower) and smaller hospital “psych-wards” where all types of acts of barbarism such as lobotomy and electro-shock therapy as well as tranquilizer drugs like thorazine were the frequent norm, our mentally ill were often locked away their families and society for decades or until their death. Even the Kennedy family institutionalized one of their daughters, oldest daughter Rosemary.
That was not an acceptable solution, but neither is the current status of millions of mentally ill addicts, troubled veterans and others wandering the streets of our inner cities or often housed in our jails and prisons, which are also not equipped to help or treat them.
Paranoia, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and other mental health disorders too numerous to mention are as real as diabetes, heart disease, cancer or the AIDs and Zika viruses. Billions will be collectively spent on treatments and cures for those chronic illnesses and fatal diseases, but mere millions will come from the private and public sectors researching new treatments, protocols and cures to improve the lives of the mentally ill, as well as assist their families and caregivers.
Like most complex challenges, there is no easy answer, simple cure, or silver bullet. Time and again the mentally ill have found their way to borrow, acquire or steal a legal weapon or firearm from others. Tougher laws typically will have little or no impact on the imbalanced.
And as we are still a free society that can’t indict, convict or incarcerate PRIOR to the commission of a violent act or crime, without research and treatment centers spread across our nation, there is often virtually no place to even refer a troubled party to seek help.
Think of the seemingly endless rash of teen suicides. Depression and separation from others are symptoms, but other than therapy and counseling, there is no guarantee of happiness or good mental health in the near term ... this recovery is an ongoing journey and the patient and physician are often together for the long haul. That is also the way we treat other chronic illnesses.
The days ahead will be likely filled with many politicizing and blaming others for this mass shooting. President Trump did not pull the trigger. ISIS (who has claimed responsibility) may have played some role, but they too were not at Mandalay Bay, nor on the Las Vegas Strip. And to be converted to committing such a heinous and hateful act, the mental stability of the shooter is clearly in question. The shooter’s father was apparently a longtime outlaw, with a series of crimes and violent acts. This does not make the shoot blameless, but the seed may clearly have been in his DNA.
Doing nothing is not an option. Seizing or further restricting access to firearms among our citizenry is not a realistic solution. We need to listen more now, to voices like former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who for years has been raising red flags and calling for help and assistance for our mentally ill. Starting now is not too late, waiting longer may only result in more of the same.
Bill Crane is a senior communications strategist who began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both political parties. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.