Here are the reasons why:
By Dean Aslinia, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC
Over the past 35 days the citizens of the United States have had to grapple with a series of domestic terrorist acts. First inLas Vegas, where a killer named Stephen Poddock decided to settle his personal misfortunes with the deaths of more than 56 innocent individuals from a 32nd floor hotel room. Next, we had another sad soul in New York, Sayfullo Saipov, who decided to rent a truck and plow down six innocent bike riders. Lastly, the most recent incident that happened over the weekend, with a former court-martialed ex-military airman, Devin Patrick Kelley, who walked into a small church in Sutherland Springs, TX and killed 26 innocent lives ranging from 5 to 72. Every piece of reporting on these events has reported these incidents to be “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history,” or “the highest death tolls in New York caused by a terrorist in NYC”, or “the worst mass shooting causality in the State of Texas”.
Here are the reasons that I, a mental health expert, believe that there will be more mass shootings and killings across the U.S. in our new future:
- 1. Regardless of your political affiliation or value sets, without injecting politics into this conversation, the state of mental health support in our nation is horrible. I am a licensed psychotherapist that has experience in the ownership and management of 6 private mental health practices and University mental health clinics. I also serve on the board of trustees of a local mental health authority in the State of Texas. Furthermore, I have taught in graduate level clinical mental health programs for the past 10 years. Despite all my involvements in the mental health profession, I can confidently state that we have limited mental health support overall, in this country. We simply do not care about mental health. Politicians talk a great game about supporting growth initiatives, but when it comes down to it, it is not prioritized when it comes to funding. We see our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, whom are in dire need for mental health services, yet the Veteran’s Administration is taxed and overcrowded. Veteran suicide and homicide rates are staggering, and there is little we seem to do. But it’s not just politicians that have a say in this process. Insurance companies and their plans are putting more and more mental health clinicians out of business because of low reimbursement rates provided by insurance companies. As a result, we see mental health professionals opting to collect private-pay only, thus reducing the availability of care for our veterans, and the general public whom rely on insurance discounts. I can relate to this because for the past 7 years, I have accepted managed-care insurance plans, with first-hand experience of the headaches and bureaucracy of paperwork. At the end of the day, after having settled my private-pay expenses, I ended up making the same as a minimum wage employee! One can argue that there is nothing wrong with making minimum wage, but after having gone through 13 years of higher education to get a doctoral degree, with thousands of dollars in loans, it just doesn’t add up. Bottom line, the more we attribute these killings to mental health, the grimmer the future looks. Because to address mental health, you need an adequate amount of mental health providers. If our system does not support those that are in the frontlines, then we should expect more and more psychotic breaks from those who are the most vulnerable.
- Each time a horrific event happens, the media reports the events with such sensationalism, and eagerness that it almost encourages the next freak to consider such horrific exits. We speak and report of these events as though they are sporting events with records being broken, counting victims as though they are mile-markers that have been conquered. The media needs to understand that those individuals that are pre- disposed to acting in such in-humane ways do not process feelings like the rest of us. To them, the enticement of fame, leaving a mark, breaking a record, or having notoriety seems much more attractive than living a simple life. Thus, when our news is filled with catchy phrases like “Horror in Las Vegas” or “The Boston Bomber” etc… we are only fueling the desires of the next lone wolf that is contemplating what he/she would like the next horrific incident to be known as.
- Let’s combine both of the top reasons of not enough support for mental health professionals, alongside the media sensationalism of the incidents. Then, add to it the third reason which is easy access to weapons that can cause mass causality, and we now have the perfect trifecta – which is the recipe for disaster. Again, I choose not to inject politics into this discussion. Therefore, I will not blame gun access as the enemy. However, I ponder this: the killer sought out to obtain a gun license in the State of Texas, but the State denied him. I can’t help but wonder, how did he go about obtaining the high powered weapon that killed 26 people? I’m not naïve enough to think laws and regulations will prevent killings, but leaving wide-open loopholes does nothing to at least help prevent unstable individuals from obtain weapons.
I will conclude that until we as a nation wake up and realizes that 1 out of 4 Americans suffer from a mental health condition. Leaving them untreated will harm everyone in this nation, I cannot foresee these killings going away. We need more than just lip service to invest in this problem and to help those that need help. To every senator, representative, and citizen in this great nation of ours: I plea and beg of you, lets work together to close the loopholes that are in our gun safety laws, and fully support those that are fighting in the front lines of mental health in order to make an impact towards neutralizing these threats for future generations.
Dr. Dean Aslinia is a licensed mental health professional in the State of Texas, a professor of psychotherapy at SMU in the Department of Counseling and Dispute Resolution, and a board member of the Texas Counseling Association. He has more than 20 years of combined education, clinical, and graduate teaching experience.