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Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D.
Nancy S. Buck Ph.D.

Mental Health, Gun Violence, and Parenting

We desperately need a change in our public health policy.
Part I

In the United States people have just as much right to be mentally ill as they do to purchase and own a gun. That’s right. You cannot take away a person’s right to live their life free of any kind of mental health intervention1 any more than you can take away a person’s right to own guns. Could we mandate that Wayne LaPierre, the president of the NRA, receive mental health counseling without his consent? No matter your political position the answer is no.

Four months after the massacre in Newtown and our nation is still haunted by the incomprehensible events. This time is different. This time the conversation and the desire to change and do something seem to be having an effect. For now all of the political will, resources and energies are focused on making changes in the laws controlling guns. The debate, opinions and controversy surrounding gun control is heated. The country is outraged at the continued level of murders, massacres and killings.

“We must control our guns” cry some while others declare, “You can’t interfere with my constitutional gun rights.” These debates and conversations are carried on in every living room, school, and church as well as the legislative bodies in the federal government and most states.

Oh . . . and the declaration that something must be done about mental health is also part of the conversation. It is a much quieter, almost after thought part of the conversation.

We must do something about mental health. We cannot wait. And when we finally get around to addressing this issue you can count on the same level of controversy, disagreement and probable lack of progress. The debate may not be as loud or angry. As a nation we tolerate the freedom to be mentally ill more than we do the control of our guns.

How can we do anything about mental health when we don’t even know what mental health is? Sure there are plenty of people pointing fingers at the dramatic reduction in the mental health funding in this country. There are just as many people pointing fingers at some of the shooters who actually received mental health services and still committed these unspeakable crimes.

When we eventually engage in a debate over improving mental health will we remain focused only on the treatment and services for the mentally ill? How can we improve mental health when we don’t even know what that means?

Some investigation of Mental Health on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) web site resulted in the following information about mental illnesses: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and more. There was nothing defining or describing Mental Health. Next I searched several dictionaries under the word health and found: the condition of being sound in body, mind or soul. But there were no listings for Mental Health. Wikipedia describes mental health as a level of psychological well-being or an absence of a mental disorder. The answers I received from an informal survey I conducted of acquaintances, personal as well as professional, described mental health as the absence of mental illness.

Does Mental Health mean the absence of mental illness?

If this is true, then what will our plan be to improve mental health in this country? Will we round up everyone we suspect of having a mental illness and work to eliminate this illness? Who will determine who is healthy and who is ill? Is Rush Limbaugh an example of mental health, mental illness or a man with strong convictions that are different from mine? And the chances of getting anyone of these young male shooters counseled are about as good as the chances of getting Mr. Limbaugh counseled. If you think successful treatment of the mentally ill is something easily done please read Robert Whitaker’s book Mad in America.

We are no closer to understanding and treating mental illness today than we were one hundred years ago. We have more drugs today to temporarily suppress the symptoms of the illness. But unfortunately some have the side affect of increased violence when the patient goes off their prescribed medication as was the case with the shooter at Virginia Tech.

Increasing funding and availability of care for those suffering from mental illness will help. But developing and advocating a public health policy for good mental and emotional health for all may be the prevention we need. We need a solution to stop the next angry, isolated young man from turning to mass shooting as his solution.

We can work to improve good emotional and mental health right now! After all, we as a nation addressed changing the definition of good physical health and good oral health by addressing these issues as public health problems to be solved. The same is possible for good emotional and mental health. Just as parents are the primary teachers and coaches to inspire and steer their children toward being in good physical shape and maintaining good dental and oral health, the same can happen for good mental and emotional health.

How? By following these three simple steps. Everyone from age six-years old and older needs to know:

  1. What is good emotional and mental health?
  2. What must I do to get into good mental and emotional health?
  3. What must I do to maintain my good emotional and mental health?

To be continued . . .

This is part one of a two part blog discussing good emotional and mental health. In part II I will define good mental and emotional health and suggest the daily parenting practices that will ensure their own as well as their children’s good emotional and mental health.

1In most states there are two kinds of ways a person can be hospitalized without their consent. If the person is an immediate threat to himself or others he can be held for a limited period of time in a locked facility without his consent. Or she can be civilly court committed which is a lengthy, often unsuccessful process.

About the Author
Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D.

Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D. tackles the tough topics facing families today. She is a developmental and author of Peaceful Parenting and Why Do Kids Act That Way?