The Mental Illness Taboo

Once again, a mass shooting has been perpetrated by a man with an apparent history of mental illness.  As in most previous cases, the killer at the Navy Yard, in Washington, D.C., had demonstrated signs of paranoia and disordered thinking which were not adequately addressed.

Most humans are uncomfortable with mental illness and, though it has lost some of its stigma over the years, they are reluctant to intervene when they observe its signs in their friends or relatives.  As in the current case, even law enforcement officials are sometimes inclined to ignore evidence of mental illness if there is no immediate danger to the individual or to others.  There is even significant disagreement among mental health professionals with regard to the degree of intervention that is appropriate; some are opposed to the use of hospitalization altogether while others are hesitant to saddle the individual with a diagnosis that might limit his or her career opportunities and personal freedoms (including, of course, the right to purchase firearms).

Thus we continue to deal with the consequences of mental illness that is either ignored or inadequately treated.  A concerted effort to address this issue will require a unified commitment by all segments of human society and, to be clear, a significant increase in State and Federal funding.  Unfortunately, those who oppose reasonable gun control also oppose taxation; their answer is to arm everyone and to deal with mental illness via lethal force.