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Some Call for Fewer Guns, More Treatment

It's still early days since the massacre of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, CT.  President Barack Obama spoke of the need for "change," and while many assume he means beefing up statutes on the most dangerous firearms, he didn't specify what he meant.

Meanwhile, many are talking about mental illness, even though the shooter, Adam Lanza, is not known to have had a diagnosed mental illness.  Various sources have said he had Asperger's syndrome, a variant of autism spectrum disorder. But as the Associated Press reported, experts say those who have Asperger's tend to be rule-followers, not violent.

In "The Tragedy of Sandy Hook,"Florida health consultant Paul Gionfriddo says the violent and gun-loving U.S. culture has more to do with it than mental illness. We must first "get lethal firearms out of the hands of people who are not defending us," he said.

Second, he writes, we must "stop neglecting and discriminating against people with mental illness," putting them in jail instead of providing treatment.  He says $4.6 billion has been cut from state mental health budgets since 2008.

"Violence is not a mental health problem, it is a public health problem," Gionfriddo writes.

Dr. Marc Yacht, a retired public health director from Pasco County, also writes of the need for mental-health treatment.

"The deinstitutionalization of the seriously mentally ill began during the Nixon years and has been an abysmal failure," Yacht writes. "Deranged patients counted in the millions walk community streets today in need of medication, nutrition, and proper care. "

He continues, "Tens of thousands of families have found it difficult if not impossible to find adequate mental health programs to meet the needs of kin with significant mental health issues. Jail is not an option for the mentally ill. Residential treatment in an appropriate facility is required. Should the patient be released, careful follow-up is essential.  Mental health system failures relate directly to failed health care policy leaving 50 million uninsured.  Obamacare will shore up some of these inadequacies."

While the ideal of "mainstreaming" people with mental illness was the stated goal for closing the hospitals, Yacht writes, the real agenda was budget-cutting.

He called for "adequate funding and reopening of state mental hospitals and reception centers.  Until this decision is made, more calamities will occur."


Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.