Demands that it be easier to involuntarily commit the mentally ill are knee-jerk and irrational

This is an article that I posted during the last “crazed shooter” fallout. Because of all the painfully ignorant reactions after these tragedies happen I feel it’s important to add some perspective even while I hate entering the fray at all. We are all at risk if we let ignorance and terror dictate public policy after these incidents occur.

Very important article in Salon today by Glenn Greenwald:

Demands that it be easier to involuntarily commit the mentally ill are knee-jerk and irrational

Listen to what he proposes:  “first, those who acquire credible evidence of an individual’s mental disturbance should be required to report it to both law enforcement authorities and the courts, and the legal jeopardy for failing to do so should be tough enough to ensure compliance”; those reporting obligations should apply not only to family and friends, but extend to “school authorities and other involved parties.”  And “second, the law should no longer require, as a condition of involuntary incarceration, that seriously disturbed individuals constitute a danger to themselves or others”; instead, involuntary commitment should be imposed whenever there is “delusional loss of contact with reality.” He concludes on this melodramatic note:  ‘How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?”

There’s so much warped reasoning embedded in this argument that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Galston seems to be unaware of this, but what motivated the reforms in this area were the decades of severe, horrifying abuses which those with mental illnesses — and even those who had none — suffered as a result of permissive involuntary commitment standards and prolonged forced incarceration.  Those who suffered mental illnesses were locked away for years and sometimes decades despite having done nothing wrong and despite not being a threat to anyone, while countless people who simply exhibited strange or out-of-the-ordinary behavior were deemed mentally ill and similarly consigned.  The psychitaric social worker Alicia Curtis provided just one example:  “There is also a large history of the forced treatment of homosexuality as mental ‘illness’.”  Indeed, involuntarily committing people in mental hospitals is a time-honored way for stifling any individuality and dissent; see this 2010 New York Times article on how China uses that repressive tactic….


Worse, Galston assumes, without offering any evidence, that there is a significant correlation between mental illness and violence, but the reality is the opposite:  the vast, vast majority of people with mental illnesses never hurt anyone.  Writing two days ago in Slate, Vaughn Bell decried “the fact that mental illness is so often used to explain violent acts despite the evidence to the contrary,” and documented:

Of course, like the rest of the population, some people with mental illness do become violent, and some may be riskier when they’re experiencing delusions and hallucinations. But these infrequent cases do not make “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” a helpful general-purpose explanation for criminal behavior. . . . your chance of being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia is so vanishingly small that a recent study of four Western countries put the figure at one in 14.3 million. To put it in perspective, statistics show you are about three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

Yet Galston, pointing to Arizona, wants to lock all of them away. The harm that would come from forcibly consigning thousands and thousands of people have done nothing wrong is so much greater than the harm from the once-every-20-years attack on a political official that the excessiveness of his solution is self-evident. read the rest

It’s worth reading Vaughn Bell’s piece he mentions too that clearly lays out the reasons why mental illness is not an explanation of violence.

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