Newtown’s mass killer Adam Lanza destroyed his hard drive before he took his weapons to the school. Police have tried to have this hard drive repaired in an effort to reconstruct Lanza’s state of mind. But his state of mind is clear. All verbal accounts of Lanza verify that he was severely mentally disturbed. Even his photographs confirm this.
With a now urgent national discussion on gun control has come talk on mental illness. Yet much of what is being said and done regarding mental illness is disturbing. Upon Governor Andrew Cuomo’s introduction, New York State passed legislation by which psychiatrists and other healthcare providers would be required to report to the government any of their mentally ill patients whom they considered to be dangerous. It’s more than possible that other legislatures, including Congress, may soon pass similar measures.
By such laws mentally ill persons become targets for both public scorn and governmental intrusion. This worsens an already dire situation. There is a long-standing stigma to mental illness. As psychology has been relatively neglected by the scientific and medical communities, it has lagged behind other medical and healthcare areas. The examination and treatment of mental problems is often a sloppy business. Misdiagnoses are frequent, and too often patients are labeled with such mental conditions as attention deficit hyperactive disorder or Alzheimer’s when other diseases are actually involved.
What is not entering the national discussion, at least at the governmental level, is the need for increased funding for mental health programs. To the contrary, state and federal governments have continued to cut such funding. In 2011, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, published State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis, which revealed that states including California, Illinois, Nevada and South Carolina had made severe and repeated cuts in their mental health budgets.
New York for several decades has routinely cut its funding on mental health. One of Andrew Cuomo’s first acts as governor was to cut New York’s mental health budget even further.
There should be no stigma on mental illness. It is a disease as heart trouble and diabetes are diseases. It should be addressed as such, and taken seriously as a part of both science and healthcare.
Our government, at both the state and federal levels, has the money to adequately fund mental health programs. That it chooses instead to target the mental ill as outsiders makes for a poor commentary on the society that it serves.