By David Williams ’14
In 2012, the United States saw 16 mass shootings take 88 lives. The most notorious one occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Throughout December, news organizations, filled the airwaves with continuing coverage of the tragedy, the effects on the town and children, and sparked a renewed conversation on mental illness and support that had began after the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting during the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. More people in our society must understand that this type of mass media coverage grants these criminals notoriety – notoriety that often acts as an incentive for future mass shootings. The continuing coverage of tragedies, such as those in Colorado, Connecticut, and Wisconsin, maintains national attention for criminal acts that deserve nothing but our condemnation.
However, these mass shootings jumpstart conversations in our government and society that need to occur. Sadly, the knee jerk reactions to these horrors look towards gun control and violent videogames. Instead, we should look at the underlying cause of many of these attacks: damaged mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness issued report card based ratings for each state’s mental health programs and laws. Originally offered in 2009 and updated in 2011, no state managed to receive an A rating from the organization, with 27 states receiving under a C rating, and an overall grade for the US of a D. Between 2009 and 2011, states cut 1.6 billion dollars from their budgets for their state mental health agencies. Moreover, mental health issues seem to receive less media coverage and have less understanding than other health problems.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 46.4% of American adults will develop a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their life. This is compounded due to the raising rates of mental illness in younger populations with 55% of adults aged 30-44 having been diagnosed in their lifetime, as compared to 26.1% of those adults aged over 60. We have answered this increase in the rates of mental illnesses by cutting support for those who are currently suffering for mental illnesses. While only 6% of the population suffers from debilitating mental illnesses, the annual cost, both direct and indirect, has been reported at 317.6 billion dollars. Out of this cost, 193.2 billion dollars were solely loss of earnings, 100.1 billion dollars reported as health care expenditures, and 24.3 billion paid as social security income and disability insurance.
If we continue to lack education for and stigmatize mental illnesses in our society, we run the risk of exacerbating the already prevalent problem of mental illness. While only an extremely small percentage of those with mental health problems will go on to commit crimes as heinous as the 16 mass shootings that we suffered in 2012, we cannot continue to ignore the importance of mental health. If we do, we can expect to face a continued crisis with rising mental illness rates and greater social stigmatization.