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August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsMind Matters

Mental health needs attention to prevent mass shootings

It is not news to anyone that mass shootings are a growing problem in the United States. The constant issue in coverage of these shootings is whether we should focus on gun control or mental health awareness as prevention. While I do agree that gun control is an important aspect, I think a larger focus should be placed on strategies to advocate for better mental health practices.

The FBI defines a mass shooting as one where four or more people, not including the perpetrator, are killed. Between 2000 and 2008, there was an average of five mass shootings per year. That number has tripled, though, to an average of 15 per year between 2008 and 2013. These past few months alone have seen shootings in Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and Seattle.

Mass shootings only account for a small percentage of gun-violence deaths in the United States each year. However, there is a much stronger correlation between mental illness and mass shootings than there is between mental illness and typical gun violence. It seems clear, then, that to prevent mass shootings specifically, we should focus on mental health practices.

In the past few months, the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives has taken action to address some problems with mental health care. Some of the proposed changes include better training for law enforcement and emergency medical workers about how to deal with mental health issues, expanding the scope of Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act privacy laws to allow professionals the opportunity for more aid in crisis situations and better allocation of funds to the treatment of severe mental illnesses.

These are all steps in the right direction. It should be emphasized to the public that mental health is an important topic about which it needs to be aware and educated. It should not be ignored. Perhaps this means more education about mental health topics, more coverage about warning signs and intervention techniques, or better access to psychological services across the country.

Guns obviously have an impact on mass shootings. Without guns, there would not be any shootings. The truth is, though, that it is an impossible feat to prevent all gun use. It is not, however, impossible to treat mental illnesses before people get to the point of committing acts of violence. There just needs to be a larger emphasis on proper psychological care. Pennsylvania Representative and psychologist Tim Murphy may have said it best when he said, “It’s not about what’s in their hand, it’s about what’s in their mind.” In order to reverse the recent trend, the country must focus on mental health.