“According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 77 percent of people say better mental health would have averted the Parkland shooting. People scream ‘mental health!’ They want to weaponize ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ I’m a psychologist. What do people want when they say ‘more mental health?’” I complained to my son as we shot hoops in the driveway.
“They want you to always have a job, Pops,” he smirked as he sank a three-pointer. “Because that’s crazy.”
“That would be funny, if it weren’t such a deadly joke,” I said.
“Eight out of 10 scapegoat mental health,” he chided. “That means we kids are right. Crazy cuts across party lines.”
I nodded in agreement. “Armed teachers?”
“I’m so glad my teachers weren’t armed,” he smiled and sank another three-pointer.
“You weren’t that bad in high school,” I said. “Were you?”
“People don’t want mental health,” he dribbled to our driveway’s three-point line, “People want ‘Minority Report.’”
“The Tom Cruise movie! That’s science fiction!” I protested.
“People love sci-fi!” he smiled. “We don’t want science, mental health, or you,” he said. “Unless you can set up a pre-crime unit or absolve us of our sins.”
We have a complicated relationship with science. Science sells, and we buy it—as long as it’s designing weapons for the Pentagon, technology to make things easier for us, or a new way to get high. As soon as science slips off its narrow rails and challenges our desires and ignorance, we leave it on the shelf next to the kale and plant-based nutrition books.
We’re willing to pay a high price to feed our desires and ignorance. In the ‘50s it was, “Cigarettes? Why would businesses sell them if they’re bad for you?”
For the last two decades in America it’s been, “Manmade global warming? What hoax will these science geeks cook up next?”
Our relationship is even more strained in disciplines concerning mental health. Decades of research find corporal punishment is a lousy disciplinary tool. Yet, everytime a young shooter unloads a clip, some genius on social media posts, “Spare the rod, spoil the child!”
Our relationship with science is downright fractured when scientists weigh in on public policy. A 1993 study by Arthur Kellerman found that guns in the home were associated with an increased risk of homicide in the home. He recommended further research. The NRA and our nation’s response was the Dickey Amendment, a small clause in a 1996 spending bill, effectively prohibiting federal dollars from studying gun violence. It’s still in effect.
We scream “mental health” after mass shootings, but every administration since Reagan has helped destroy the 1963 Community Mental Health Care Act. In one sense, every kid killed in a school shooting since Columbine is collateral damage of our misplaced priorities. We basically say, “If you have serious mental illness, make sure you have good insurance, because we rejected universal health care (again) and we’re cutting Medicaid (again). Or, just stay under the radar and buy an AR-15.”
In 2014 the American Psychiatric Association wrote a “Position Statement on Firearm Access, Acts of Violence and the Relationship to Mental Illness and Mental Health Services.” Its very first bullet point states, “Many deaths and injuries from gun violence can be prevented through national and state legislative and regulatory measures.”
It continues: “Recognizing the vast majority of gun violence is not attributable to mental illness, the APA views the broader problem of firearm-related injury as a public health issue and supports interventions that reduce the risk of such harm.”
Are you on board? If not, please, don’t scream “more mental health” the next time a shooter unloads a clip at a middle school. Maybe we don’t want cultural “mental health.” Maybe we actually want cultural pain management. Isn’t there a pill for that? Of course there is. And our opioid crisis is prematurely killing as many of us as guns. It’s a good thing the American Medical Association isn’t as powerful or immoral as the NRA, otherwise narcotics wouldn’t be regulated, they’d be handed out with crayons.
If it’s absolution people seek, my “thoughts and prayers” go with them. I’m a psychologist. Our complex problems with evil and violence aren’t supernatural, they’re simply human. I’m optimistic we’ll continue to take steps to solve them. Governor Roy Cooper won’t arm teachers at New Hanover High anytime soon. Eventually, we’ll move forward toward cultural “mental health” by employing an array of science-based tactics, like taking all guns off streets and rejecting simple solutions, such as arming kindergarten teachers, and the science fiction of “Minority Report.”