Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Mental Health Dodge Has Come To A Republican Near You

John Kasich is the GOP's most rational presidential aspirant. He said he attended the wedding of a gay friend. (Perhaps he liked the reception hall- or the open bar.) At one point, he agreed he would prohibit sales of firearms to people on the no-fly list (though not on the Terrorism Screening Database).  The Ohio governor approved expansion of Medicaid (not afraid to accept free money from the federal government to insure your residents).   The bar has been set very low for Republican candidates.

Following the mass shooting in Kalamazoo on Sunday, Kasich was asked by Think Progress

how he would bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of gun control, Kasich pivoted to mental health, saying access to care was the real issue surrounding America’s mass shooting problem.

“You know, it’s another issue of mental illness,” Kasich said. “And frankly, I’m doing everything I can in my state to make sure we can take relief to those who, you know, who live on the edge like that."

Blaming firearm violence on mental illness is an easy way out. It allow the politician to steer clear of attack by the gun lobby, and the mental-health community won't compalin about the attention it gives to emotional issues. Sometimes reality intrudes, however, as in a study published in the February, 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health which found

little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.

We don't know yet to what extent mental illness and other factors were at play in the Kalamazoo massacre, though Uber driver Jason Dalton did not have a history of mental illness.  On the macrol level, however, we know that the proliferation of firearms is a more important factor than mental illness. The researchers explained

A number of studies suggest that laws and policies that enable firearm access during emotionally charged moments also seem to correlate with gun violence more strongly than does mental illness alone. Belying Lott’s argument that “more guns” lead to “less crime,” Miller et al. found that homicide was more common in areas where household firearms ownership was higher. Siegel et al. found that states with high rates of gun ownership had disproportionately high numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides. Webster’s analysis uncovered that the repeal of Missouri’s background check law led to an additional 49 to 68 murders per year, and the rate of interpersonal conflicts resolved by fatal shootings jumped by 200% after Florida passed “stand your ground” in 2005.56 Availability of guns is also considered a more predictive factor than is psychiatric diagnosis in many of the 19 000 US completed gun suicides each year.11,57,58 (By comparison, gun-related homicides and suicides fell precipitously, and mass-shootings dropped to zero, when the Australian government passed a series of gun-access restrictions in 1996.59)

On the matter of taste and integrity, the Ohio governor has the edge on his rivals. However, when it comes to jumping to conclusions about criminal behavior, John Kasich, PsyD is just as hard to beat.

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