Point of View

When Guns Speak for the Mentally Ill

angry man

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

― C.S. LewisThe Problem of Pain

Anyone who has ever volunteered at a homeless shelter for any length of time realizes that the mentally ill have no place else to go. In the late 1950s, there was a movement among psychiatrists, state governments and politicians to release patients from hospitals, claiming that centralized treatment of mental illness could just as easily and more cheaply be conducted in community clinics.

A 1984 article in the New York Times quotes Dr. Robert H. Felix, who was then director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a major figure in the shift to community centers. He said in the article, ”Many of those patients who left the state hospitals never should have done so. We psychiatrists saw too much of the old snake pit, saw too many people who shouldn’t have been there and we overreacted. The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept, but psychiatrists are human, too, and we tried our damnedest.”

Fast forward to 2015, almost 60 years later, and we have done absolutely nothing to help those with mental illness, even though we’ve seen them crammed in our homeless shelters, lying in our parks and languishing in our jails. The severely mentally ill have been given a short shrift for decades because we would rather shut our eyes and hope the problem goes away.

Today the mentally ill — just like the rest of us –are exposed to a 24-hour cycle of inconceivable horror and violence. Those who have been living on a thin ledge of sanity, simply can no longer cope. All of the medication in the world can’t turn the world into a paradise. When a desperate, confused person has no place to turn, and no one will listen, is it a surprise when he or she turns a gun on others and then on themselves?


4 thoughts on “When Guns Speak for the Mentally Ill

  1. A really interesting post Rebecca… I like your even handed and compassionate approach to such a difficult issue. I think the “stigma” around mental illness definitely makes it worse.

    In one case, I once met a lady who seemed completely unreachable because of her illness, but when a number of people loved her, talked with her and embraced her without judgment, her illness seemed to effect her very little, to the point it was barely noticeable.


  2. This is so powerful, so true. It seems like society is so broken, sometimes.This is just one place to begin, and an important one.


  3. I’ve had some experiences pretty close to home on this subject. I find myself in a place where I feel sadness over it and anger at the same time. Mental illness is so hard on the affected person and involved family. The system is broken, throwing medicine at the problem or “sweeping it under the rug” isn’t the right fix, I struggle with what is the right answer… It’s a long story.


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