The media coverage of the attack aimed at British Parliament this week reminded me of a disturbing trend in the way we react to acts of mass violence. Media outlets grasp for straws with their “what we know now” pieces and politicians choose their words carefully so that when the final cause is discovered, they will end up correct. Then we all wait with baited breath wondering (dare I say hoping) that it is actually a terrorist attack because that would make so much more sense and would have an easier solution – more license to bomb and more use of special forces, etc.
But, all too often, as was the case in London, the perpetrator ends up being a fellow citizen who is classified as a “disturbed individual” or someone who became “radicalized”. The press closes up shop and returns to other stories and people quickly move on, throwing their hands up as if there is nothing that can be done. If it had been terrorist in nature, we would mobilize, go on alert, take action, and do something. Even though these individuals are starting to make up the majority of cases that hit Americans, we are in this absurd habit of doing nothing. Isn't it time for a war on mental illness that has the same intensity as the war on terrorism?
If we bring to mind the last several acts of mass violence, we see that mentally ill individuals are responsible for many of these events. This was the case in Orlando when a New York born individual known for past psychological instability trained to be a prison guard and then later was hired as a private security guard killed 50 people in a gay night club. Or in 2015, when North Carolina native Robert Lewis Dear killed 3 people in a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic saying that he was doing “God's work”. Or when California-born Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, known to be mentally unstable with anti-religion and White Supremacist leanings, blew away 9 of his fellow classmates and his professor in Oregon in 2015. And, the list goes on and on as you can see in a piece by the LA Times called Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings 1984-2016.
We can't agree on guns so lets not have that politically polarized argument, but I bet we can all agree on waging a battle on mental illness to protect the safety of all Americans. And, I would argue that we could easily afford it if we looked at it as an investment in our safety in the same way we do with terrorism. The cost of intensive psychological intervention for those at serious risk of violence or radicalization is far less than even a few military bombing sorties.