Mental Health and Fire Arms Deaths

by Tim from LA, and Rev. Barbara F. Meyers
 
Again there is a school shooting, and again there are cries from many voices from both parties that the mentally ill are responsible for gun violence in our country.  It seems like this cycle of violence and blaming it on mental illness is never ending, as are ineffectual efforts to address it.  For example, Florida Governor Rick Scott weighed in:
 
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference Thursday that he would discuss with the Legislature next week increasing funding for mental-health services and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.  Scott said, “If somebody is mentally ill, they can’t have access to a gun.”
 
The problem is, this is unconstitutional and denying someone a firearm is a violation of the Second Amendment…and they know that. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,
 
“It is important to note that the vast majority of Americans with mental health conditions are not violent and that those with mental illness are in fact more likely to be victims than perpetrators.  An individual who seeks help for mental health problems or receives mental health treatment is not automatically legally prohibited from having a firearm; nothing in this final rule changes that.  HHS continues to support efforts by the Administration to dispel negative attitudes and misconceptions relating to mental illness and to encourage individuals to seek voluntary mental health treatment.”
 
Anyone who is not adjudicated by a judge deemed mentally incapable can legally purchase a firearm. So if you place yourself in a mental institution for mental health issues, come out, you can legally buy a pistol, rifle, or a shotgun. It’s your Constitutional right. To say that they will ban mentally ill folks from purchasing a firearm will not stand up in court and again, they know that. So the law they craft will get thrown out.
 
This political act is merely a way for politicians to appear to be concerned about the victims, but at the same time, kowtow to the NRA and other gun-lobbying groups. At the same time, create a stigma for those who are mentally ill.
 
You see, I, Tim, have mental health issues and am going through therapy. I also bought a rifle too. My background checks out, and I shoot at targets.  I am neither a threat to myself nor others, and the rifle was secured in a safe. In a gun store. I sold the firearm, and I can legally purchase another if I choose to do so, which I will not do, because, I hate cleaning after shooting. But then, even with my mental health, I have no problem determining what is right or wrong, as do many who suffer. Less than five percent of folks who do suffer, commit a crime. The two most famous are John Hinckley Jr. and Mark David Chapman. Both are found not guilty because of insanity.  Many who do kill and convicted try an insanity plea but are found lucid enough to stand trial.
 
Most of folks who are mentally ill end up as victims not perpetrators, but our elected officials tend to blame us than find a way to prevent future violence, as it is easier to put off responsibility to the people yet receive the political contributions from the lobbying group. Florida is proof of that. They never expanded Medicaid. Doing so would allow folks to receive the treatment they sorely need, as Governor Scott said that the shooter in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, is mentally disturbed, and should not have been able to purchase a firearm.
 
Just because we seek treatment does not mean we are inherently violent. There is enough stigma, cultural and otherwise compounding our desire to find that cure, but when our leadership does nothing to treat patients or even do anything to prevent gun deaths like having sensible gun laws, then expect more death and more stigma next time around. It’s tough living in Los Angeles and seeking treatment, but suffice it to say that it’s worse in states that have more concern for gun rights than human rights.
 
But there is a larger issue that is unaddressed by the focus on mass shootings.  Putting deaths by guns in context, mass killings are only a tiny portion of such deaths.  Far and away the largest group of people dying by gun fire are suicides.  Some estimates are up to 60% are suicides.  That is HUGE, given the massive number of gun deaths in the United States.  So, if we are going to make a real difference, we need something that works for deterring suicides as well as mass killings.  
 
We see some hopeful signs.  On a recent broadcast of The News Hour on NPR Professor Jeff Swanson of Duke University, a psychiatrist specializing in violence and mental illness, was interviewed.  He correctly stated that the vast majority of people who have diagnosable mental illnesses aren’t violent and never will be.  He stated that five states have laws where family members can ask law enforcement to remove weapons from the home of someone they believe might become violent.  These laws are sometimes called “red-flag” laws. This isn’t just in case of mental illness, but is also when someone is having anger issues, or is engaged in domestic violence, or is suicidal.  Professor Swanson was very positive about this kind of “red-flag” law being enacted and enforced in more states.  California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington all have some version of a red-flag law.  More than a dozen others, including Hawaii, New Jersey and Missouri, are considering them. In California, the weapons can be removed for up to a year, and there is pending legislation to allow school officials and counselors to request a “red-flag” for a student.  Swanson pointed out that there is due process which is important when you are talking about constitutional rights.  The NRA is against it, of course.
 
Earlier this month, ABC reported:
In a study published last year, researchers at Duke, Yale, Connecticut and Virginia estimated that dozens of suicides have been prevented by the Connecticut red-flag law, roughly one for every 10 gun seizures carried out. They said such laws “could significantly mitigate the risk” posed by the small number of legal gun owners who might suddenly pose a significant danger.
 
This gives us hope that some real change may actually happen.
 
We don’t think red-flag laws have yet been seriously contested in court.  We’re hopeful that if they are, the due process used and the successes will prove that it is not undue restriction of constitutional laws.  
 
We are happy to see something like red-flag laws being studied and positive results reported on a national broadcast.  And, we’re especially glad to hear how it might help with suicides, which is the biggest component of gun deaths.  But we can’t be complacent.  We know that there will be more killings and more blaming the mentally ill, and we need to be steadfast in pointing out the facts.

Mental Health and Japanese American

Hi, my name is Tim, I am Japanese American, and I have mental health issues. I am currently seeking treatment and am on medication. For nearly 50 years, I struggled with anxiety, which caused a host of other challenges in my life, which includes OCD, agoraphobia, and depression. So why the delay in seeking treatment? Culture as well as a lack of understanding how far science and technology have come. The fear of a frontal lobotomy is no longer an issue.

So when did my issues begin? Possibly at three. As an infant, I never spoke. Most of my language was grunts and awkward sounds. I may have had autism, but there was no real understanding of mental health. According to DSM-1 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the bible for mental health employees, LGBTQs were considered a sociopathic personality disturbance. It was in 1974 when the American Psychiatric Association removed LGBTQ as a mental health issue.

Then growing up, and not being treated, I had challenges in life. I did poorly in school, I was a victim of bullying, and most of my childhood life was a daydream. According to my school cume, I used to daydream (it’s now called ADHD), I could not concentrate, and in the classroom, I was an outcast. I was unreliable. For lack of a better term, I was scattered-brain.  As time went on, I barely graduated high school and had to go to Summer School to graduate.

I then went to work as no college wanted me. I later attended a community college and had a 1.7 GPA, but I couldn’t care less about my grades. Then my Asian American/Japanese language professor said to the students, “You know, I don’t care if you do well or not…I’m still getting paid regardless.

“This is not high school where I would try to coax you to do well. You are all adults, and you are responsible for your education.” Then something snapped, and I studied and did well. I eventually graduated, got my bachelor and am going for my MBA. Even with my success, I still felt at odds with life.

As my life continued, my life changed. I stopped going to church; I was involved in different civil rights activities. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. As my anxiety grew more and more, I broke away from life and remained in the shadows. I eventually became a Unitarian Universalist member, but nothing seemed to make me happy.

I remained a loner and stayed away from family and friends. I found peace being alone, away from family and friends. My doctor sent me to see a therapist, and eventually, I began therapy and a prescription routine. My life is now a lot better thanks to science as well as counseling. It took me many years to seek treatment as the stigma of mental illness is considered taboo. As a PoC (Person of Color), if one’s brain is ill, then there is a genetic defect making the family’s lineage also defective.

Though harsh, this is the philosophy many PoC endure, especially in the Asian culture, a belief that has been around for several thousand years. Though the newer generation is accepting of treatment, the elders tend to frown upon the fact that there is something wrong. There is also a conflict when religion and ethnicity collide. I grew up in a Japanese American evangelical church and the two mix poorly. The Bible verse:

1 Corinthians 12:26
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

 The above verse is representative of the belief that if someone is mentally ill, then something they did was a punishment from God. Silence is golden in this case as preventing shame dictates the guidance of the familial hierarchy. Also, death before dishonor, a samurai trait, would be in order too. In Japan and the Japanese culture, even amongst Christians, suicide is a common trait. But committing suicide because one is selfish or have mental issues, brings shame to the family.

My treatment is known to only one family member, and I am encouraged to keep going. I have realized that if I want to get better, there are some secrets that I need to have so that family pressure would not discourage me from getting better. Is it the fault of my culture? Maybe so, but trying to change more than 10,000 years of history and eliminate a caste system mentality is hard.

For me, it is better to remain in the shadow than to admit my illness, as culture dictates the family genetics and not logic. Mental illness is comparable to having the flu, and medicine is used to help one to get better. It is not a defect nor is it blemish on the family name. Unfortunately, there are outside forces that play on the stereotypes like T.V. shows.

This blog is why I came out of the mental illness closet and am trying to open more doors so that people can be accepted and the stigma attached can just fade away and we could live a healthy life. Normality began when I was at the G.A. in New Orleans. I electronically met Pastor Barbara Meyers online after searching for mental health at the UUA website. I then took a chance and sent her an email. She responded quickly, and we were scheduled to meet on the first day.

We met and spoke briefly about our lives and our health, and it went well. Unfortunately, the next day, my anxiety kicked in hard and I was avoiding everyone. Eventually, after therapy, my therapist recommended medication. There are a few people in my church who knows I am taking a prescription, but I was amazed at the warmth and nonjudgmental attitude.

U.U.s are caring and loving, but at the same time, not prying, which helps me as I strive to get better. Even DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministry) members understand as they put aside the cultural bias and accept me for who I am. Unfortunately, there are those who are not U.U. or DRUUMM, and because of culture or lack of knowledge, people who have challenges in life are deemed as either drug addicts, retarded, or just too lazy to be responsible. Forget the fact that environment, genetics, or a host of other factors create what we are today. There is also the crowd who say that ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) was the result of vaccination when folks before the vaccination programs had autism.

Stigma and fear go counter to what is helpful and yes, promote fake news about those who need support. Support needs to go beyond our churches and the UUA, but into our neighborhoods and country, where folks are not thrown out on the streets or living under a bridge, and being a victim of crime.

Our churches can be the foundation, but it is up to all of us to be the voices who cannot speak or are too anxious to do so.