GUNS & MENTAL ILLNESS
A Personal Account
I am 71 years old. I was first diagnosed with a mental illness (bipolar disorder) at age 18. I remember playing with toy guns as a child (Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger, etc.) I had access to a 410 shotgun as a teenager. Went hunting with my Dad, but did not care for it. Have not fired a gun since I was a Boy Scout. Do not own a gun; have not in over fifty years.
Up until age of forty I had several hospitalizations due to occasional "manic" episodes, followed by pretty heavy depressive periods. For those twenty-two years, from 18 to 40,
I was able to behave in a fairly normal way, sometimes up to two years between manic episodes. I could have easily have bought a gun at Walmart (but i had no desire to do so).
Guns (and violence) alongside of mental illness are two different issues. Not all violent person are mentally ill. Neither are mentally ill persons necessarily violent. Back in the 1970s, I worked on an Adult Psychiatric Treatment Unit in a state mental hospital in Texas. Some of the kindest and gentlest persons I ever met were there. And some of them were, pardon my French, "crazier'n a hoot owl". Later at a clinic I was also a therapist for a group of convicted, probated criminals--and none of them showed psychotic features--except maybe denial out-the-butt.
Gun violence and mental illness are two different issues--sometimes they coexist. Most of the time they do not. It is often said, by non-professional observers, that the perpetrator of a despicable violent act is insane. And they may be, maybe not.
But the ones who suffer unjustly, and usually in silence, are those whose self-image is bathed once more in stigma--by ignorant and fear-filled persons who believe insanity equals violence.
In my late thirties I spent three years as a patient in psychotherapy with a truly wise and caring psychiatrist. For the last thirty years I have experienced no major manic events, and only a few depressive times. I was very fortunate that the cost of those sessions was minimal, due to insurance coverage. Today the cost of such treatment is prohibitive,
More regulations on guns is needed. Not banning guns, but a means by which ownership is universally more appropriate, responsible and accountable.
And professionally-trained and competent mental health care is desperately needed. The promotion for recognition of, treatment for and public education about mental illness is a desperate need in our society.
Conrad Archer, M.Th
United Methodist Minister, Ret.
Former President, Texas MH Consumers
Case Worker, Therapist, Admin., Tx MHMR