Fox News' Martha MacCallum scapegoated individuals with mental health conditions by suggesting that increased institutionalization is a solution to mass shootings, ignoring the dangers that poses to individuals with these conditions and the need for greater gun safety.
On the September 19 America's Newsroom, MacCallum suggested that Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooting suspect, should have been institutionalized for a mental health condition, asking if we have “become so PC that we do not understand” the need to institutionalize some “categories of people.” She also criticized the medical system for only institutionalizing people who have previously been convicted of a crime:
Have we not become so PC that we do not understand that there are categories of people -- many people who do not deserve to be institutionalized, but some do. And if this man had been institutionalized, something that we, you know, seem to never do any more in this country -- in fact, Adam Lanza's mother, according to the reports after Newtown, wanted to institutionalize her son. She was worried that he would do something. But unless you have been convicted, you cannot be institutionalized. So what do we do about this?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Alexis never reported that he was depressed or that he was considering harming himself or others prior to the shooting. He sought treatment solely for insomnia. Doctors said he was “alert and oriented” and never asked for an appointment with VA mental health specialists.
MacCallum's solution raises as many questions as it answers, most critically who gets institutionalized and when.
Institutions, or psychiatric hospitals, can play a role in treatment for people with severe mental health conditions, but they are not the most effective solution in every case.
The move away from institutions and toward other medical solutions has progressed since the late 1960s, and experts have found that the alternatives are typically better at providing treatment for a variety of conditions, while avoiding the human rights violations institutions were famous for.
The World Health Organization has said that community-based mental health services are “more effective” than hospitals in meeting the needs of people with mental health conditions, and community mental health services “are also likely to have less possibilities for neglect and violations of human rights, which are too often encountered in mental hospitals.” Studies have also shown that some community treatment programs can be more effective in reducing future problems for people with these conditions, including reducing the incidence of arrests, jail time, and hospitalizations for people with some of the most severe illnesses.
MacCallum's claim that “we seem to never” institutionalize anymore also ignores the reality that people with mental health conditions are regularly locked up -- but are more likely to end up in prison than to receive necessary medical treatment. In 2006, the Department of Justice estimated that over half of all U.S. inmates suffer from a mental health problem.
Furthermore, between 2009 and 2012, “states cut a total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets,” and states that have rejected expanding Medicaid as part of the new health care law are leaving an estimated 1.2 million Americans with mental health conditions without coverage. They also tend to be states that have historically not invested in programs for these people.
Institutionalizing -- and stigmatizing -- people who might suffer from some mental health problem is not the solution to America's mental health care crisis, and defunding the very programs designed to help those individuals will only make the problem worse.
And no amount of scapegoating those with mental health conditions will prevent another massacre. Studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators, and 96 percent of violent crimes “are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all.” As Garance Franke-Ruta explained in The Atlantic:
The idea of creating a mental health database instead of pursuing policies that involve direct regulation of guns is one put forward, not surprisingly, by the gun lobby, which knows that it's easier to blame gun violence on out-of-control crazies than on abundant access to deadly weapons by disturbed individuals with evil intent bent on mayhem and murder.