Rhetoric: Will Scaring People About the Mentally Ill Result in Better Treatment?

September 7, 2011; Source: Treatment Advocacy Center | The Arlington, Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, which advocates for involuntary-mental-health-treatment laws, is drawing a connection between the recent shooting in a Carson City, Nevada IHOP and the state’s record in treating mental illness. The alleged shooter appears to have a history of schizophrenia. In a press release, the Treatment Advocacy Center also points out that the next-worst state for mental-health treatment is Arizona, where Jared Lee Loughner recently shot 19 people including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The Treatment Advocacy Center is not the only organization grading states in this way. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) gives Nevada a D grade (which is also the national average), with a number of states being given an F.

Jim Pavle of the Treatment Advocacy Center said in the press release that “every time one of these tragic events occurs, there’s an outcry about how it might have been prevented. . . . Regardless of the specifics in this tragedy, we know that treatment for mental illness works, and Nevada is just about the worst state in the nation for people in psychiatric crisis to get help. As long as this remains the case, tragedy in the future is inevitable.”

The Center does cite some abysmal numbers for Nevada, which imprisons almost 10 times as many mentally ill people as it hospitalizes. The national ratio is 3.2 to 1. The number of hospital beds for mentally ill people in Nevada is 5 for every 100,000 in population, as compared with the national average which is 17.These are indeed damning statistics, but do you think the Center’s rhetoric, in which it virtually predicts more such mass shootings, is justified? Could it have unintended consequences?—Ruth McCambridge