People with mental illnesses are more likely to be targets, rather than perpetrators, of violence, but the issue has become a convenient scapegoat among Republican lawmakers who refuse to enact actual gun reform in response to mass shootings.
A common theme emerges in headlines from the last couple of years:
These are political misdirections. All told, only between three and five percent of violent acts can be attributed to "individuals living with a serious mental illness," according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We have a strong responsibility as researchers who study mental illness to try to debunk that myth,” Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University, told The Atlantic last year. “I say as loudly and as strongly and as frequently as I can that mental illness is not a very big part of the problem of gun violence in the United States.”
And now here we are—after years of messaging from lawmakers like Ryan about how the answer to America's gun violence problem is a more robust system of mental health services—with a Republican health care bill that strips out mental health and addiction services as required coverage.
During a committee meeting on the bill this week, Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked for clarification on whether or not mental health and addiction services would remain an essential benefit under the new bill.
“The text before us does remove the application of the essential health benefits for the alternative benefit plans in Medicaid,” one of the lawyers for the Republican bill answered.
Kennedy asked again: “Including mental health?”
As The Washington Post reported this week, health care economists at Harvard Medical School and New York University have estimated nearly 1.3 million people receive treatment for mental health and substance use disorders under the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.
Without changes to the current bill, they may very well lose that access as cuts to federal funding leave states scrambling to purge their Medicaid rolls in an effort to contain costs.
Losing that coverage is a separate issue from our country's gun violence epidemic. But it's catastrophic all the same.