The Republican Threat to Mental Health
For decades, research has led us to developments and advances in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Along the way, services for the mentally ill have steadily improved, as have public attitudes toward mental illness and the mentally ill.
But progress can be undone, and certain individuals and groups in American government pose a huge threat to mental health treatment developments and funding for research and services — and they simultaneously manage to fuel stigma about mental illness that harms the public’s perceptions.
Stigma and Contradiction
Politicians, like anyone in the public spotlight, have to consider their words carefully — they don’t want to offend or alienate voters. One candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, however, not only regularly offends people — his language is often dangerous.
Donald Trump has often been accused of racism and inciting violence, but some of his recent comments also target people with mental illness.
At the third GOP debate in October 2015, Trump referred to mentally ill individuals as “sickos” while speaking about gun control. Language like this was once common, but the mental health community has long aimed to eliminate such language in favor of more clinical terms that help the public understand mental illness in more human terms.
Not only does Trump’s language stigmatize mental illness, but in the context of gun control it perpetuates a huge myth — that those experiencing mental illness are inherently violent people.
Public safety is, of course, a huge concern for the American public, but people with mental health issues are not to blame for violent acts with guns. Violent individuals, rather, often share a common trait — they experience mental illness that goes untreated. Spree killers, for example, show signs of mental illness — such as suicidal tendencies — more often than not. The problem is that these individuals usually go undiagnosed and untreated.
It makes sense, then, that mental health should be an important priority in this country. Most Republicans cite mental illness as the core cause of gun violence and mass shootings.
What does not make sense, however, is that in direct contradiction of this view, Republicans routinely slash funding for mental health programs. The House Republican budget for 2013 proposed to decrease federal funding for mental health treatment.
Since then, systemic cuts have continued. President Obama recently proposed an additional $500 million in spending on mental health care as an answer to Republican calls for a solution to mental health issues.
Despite this, Republicans continue to oppose additional spending. Not only does this create a contradiction, but it serves to put millions of lives at risk.
Millions of Americans
Funding cuts and impeded development in the field of mental health will have a negative impact on millions of Americans. Approximately 43.8 million American adults — that’s one in five — experience some form of mental illness in a given year, while approximately 10 million — or one in 25 — suffer from a serious mental illness.
For many, a serious mental illness can substantially interfere with daily activities. Mentally ill individuals are more likely to develop other chronic medical conditions and are hospitalized more frequently. Undertreated serious mental illnesses cost American workers $193.2 billion in earnings each year, and lack of treatment is likely to lead to increased unemployment and suicide levels.
Mental health services need to exist, not only for severe diagnoses like schizophrenia, but also for local treatment of conditions like depression and stress. When someone loses a job, gets divorced, fails a class in school, or has a pet or loved one pass, that individual may benefit from mental health services.
When Republicans oppose spending on mental health services, it puts all Americans at risk.