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Trump does not understand mental illness

March 16, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

To the editor:

I have written this open letter regarding mental illness to President Trump:

It is apparent to me that you do not have a clear understanding of mental illness. As the mother of a deceased son who suffered from severe bipolar disorder, let me assure youno parent wants their mentally ill child going on a shooting rampage. It's a parent's worst nightmare. Under no circumstances should individuals with severe mental illness be allowed to purchase guns or have access to them. Combine guns and untreated mental illness - you have a tragedy waiting to happen.

My son slipped into the "danger to himself and/or others" category many times. That is not the case for everyone living with a diagnosis of mental illness. For the most part, they manage their illness and live normal lives. Many have successful careers, happy marriages, and children. They contribute to society. They are medication compliant. They are proactive, not reactive to warning signs. These individuals are true role models for others struggling with this illness and are to be commended. Not every person with a mental illness is at risk of becoming a mass murderer. It does now not serve you well, Mr. President, to stigmatize all in a derogatory way as the result of the actions of a few.

I applaud your efforts to strengthen background checks for gun purchases. My son was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital 14 times in five different states. His name was never submitted to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). He could have easily purchased a gun.

If you are serious about keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who should not be allowed to purchase them, mental health treatment facilities must be required to provide NICS with patient involuntary commitment records. Until that happens, NICS cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that people with serious mental illness are three times more likely to be violent than the general population when substance abuse, a previous history of violence, or nonadherence to medication is involved.

An estimated 8.1 million American adults, just over 3 percent of the adult population, live with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder. About half of these individuals are untreated at any given time, most commonly because they lack insight into their condition and/or they are in complete denial they have a serious illness. Catching the problem at an early age is critical. Yet parents seeking help are often turned away or lose control when their children turn 18.

The same 3 percent of the population with the most severe psychiatric diseases are also estimated to account for 7 percent of all homicides, 20 percent of all law enforcement officer fatalities, 29 percent of family homicides, and up to 50 percent of mass homicides.

Science has proven that mental illness is a brain disease and, like other organs of the body, the brain responds to treatment. Yet mental illness has reached the crisis level in this country. Mental health, along with substance abuse, have been identified as the two most pressing issues by the chiefs of local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, both of whom have scarce resources. There is a critical shortage of psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and clinical social workers. There are not enough inpatient beds for those suffering from mental illness. Does it make sense to you that individuals suffering from severe mental illness can purchase guns, but not mental health care?

Florida, the third most populated state, sadly ranks 49th in funding of mental health programs. That is shameful.

Dottie Pacharis

Fort Myers Beach



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