Many of us know persons with mental health problems. We see it in simple displays of anger, confusion, depression or unusual behavior that draws attention. We see it associated with and blamed by politicians for recent mass shootings. A study by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange in 2017 found 79% of all mass shootings were attributed to a history of mental illness. Yet they continue to ignore it and fail to propose solutions.

Many of us know persons with mental health problems. We see it in simple displays of anger, confusion, depression or unusual behavior that draws attention. We see it associated with and blamed by politicians for recent mass shootings. A study by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange in 2017 found 79% of all mass shootings were attributed to a history of mental illness. Yet they continue to ignore it and fail to propose solutions.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four persons will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. In the United States, one in six adults lives with mental illness. In 2016 there were an estimated 44.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with mental illness, or 18.3% of all U.S. adults according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH.)
In order to understand these numbers, it is necessary to define terms. Any Mental Illness (AMI) is “any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.” Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is “a mental, behavorial or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” (4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV].)
If we separate SMI from AMI, we still see 4.2% of all U.S. adults which is 10.4 million persons with SMI. Among adolescents the incidence of AMI was 49.5% and of those, SMI was around 22.2% (NIMH.)
Despite the massive increase in substance abuse in recent years, the percentage of persons with mental illness remains substantially the same. So does our inadequate health care system and insurance coverage. My wife, as a retired psychiatric nurse can attest to that.
Many of our military veterans are victims of mental health, mainly PTSD but also other problems stemming from trauma. Some administrators and politicians have failed to recognize that these vets are not freeloading on the health care system, they are in need of help. Many of them do not receive that help. Though we have few persons locally who live in cardboard boxes or sleep under bridges, our country is full of those who do. In a survey of over half a million persons in 2015, the Mental Illness Policy.org found about 45% of homeless were mentally ill (AMI) and 25% were seriously mentally ill (SMI) at any given point. Think of the recent purging of the tent city along the Santa Ana River in Irvine, California in which city officials forced “residents” to just leave and go somewhere else. Where would that be?
We have two problems. One is the obvious deficiency of mental health coverage, particularly for those who cannot afford insurance by virtue of their own disabilities – a “catch 22” in which the disease prevents its own treatment.
The other is the paucity of funding for mental health research following the elimination of psychiatric hospitals. In 1980 the Mental Health Systems Act (MHSA) legislation was signed by President Jimmy Carter which provided grants to community mental health centers. But almost all of that was was eliminated by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 signed by President Ronald Reagan which eliminated that funding and eliminated many long term psychiatric hospitals needed to serve the population. With no long term care facilities, the only solution is to turn AMI and SMI patients back on the steets and wait for the next crisis. We are clearly reaping the results of that cost-cutting and elimination of important services with the increase of homeless persons and veterans, in the escalating incident of drug abuse, and the increase in mass shootings.