The politics of mental health

By Tom Quiner

Joe needed his meds or bad things would happen.DownloadedFile

I met him several times. Nice guy.

A buddy of mine employed him in his little restaurant in a food court downtown, kind of an act of Christian charity. Here’s the thing: Joe could do the job when he was on his meds.

But he lived at the YMCA and had no one to monitor whether or not he took the pills that kept him sane. You see, Joe had some sort of severe mental illness.

One day, Joe didn’t show up for work. He was never heard from again. Ever.

His mother spent the rest of her life with the knowledge that Joe had fallen off of his medication, wandered off, and died without ID. Who knows how he died or where he died. Or when.

By the way, Joe was a fairly young guy, thirtysomething, if I recall correctly.

This is relevant in light of Aaron Alexis, the latest American mass killer. He has something in common with his fellow recent mass killers, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza: he suffered from severe mental illness, which was untreated.

America changed the way they handled people suffering from illnesses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, and severe forms of depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They “freed” them from the institutions that protected them from themselves, and others.

Starting in 1969, the ACLU successfully got laws changed that viewed the forced institutionalization of people with these severe mental diseases to be a violation of their civil rights.

As they reentered public life, these ill people had trouble integrating. Many ended up living on the streets, reflected by the spike in homeless statistics. (Liberals incorrectly blamed homelessness on Ronald Reagan’s policies.)

Many ended up in prison. Something else happened. Mass killings skyrocketed.

From 1900 to 1970, there were four mass shootings in the U.S. There have been 29 in the forty-three years since, a strong correlation.

Today, we have but five percent of the public psychiatric beds that were available 50 years ago.

The solution seems obvious: we need to get these ill people proper treatment before they hurt others and themselves. Our current laws provide severe impediments. As mentioned above, we don’t have enough psychiatric hospital beds anymore. And we need need a change in commitment laws to allow society to get dangerous people off the streets and treat them, again, before they hurt someone.

Liberal politics present huge roadblocks.

The Obama government views guns as being the root cause of the problem, not mental illness. Think about the illogic. We had fewer restrictions on guns prior to 1970 than we do today, and yet we had fewer gun-related mass killings then than today. On the other hand, we have flooded our streets with people with severe mental illness since 1970.

President Obama convened a task force after the Newtown massacre. It was headed by Vice President Joe Biden. Mr Biden logically turned toward the lead government agency on mental health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for their recommendations.

Here’s the problem: SAMHSA doesn’t really believe severe mental illness exists. They devote the bulk of their $3.1 billion budget to three politically correct populations: Native Americans; residents of American territories (most of whom live in Puerto Rico); and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

They have produced a 41,000 word report on what their goals are, called “Leading Change: A Plan for SAMHSA’s Roles and Actions 2011–2014.” The report doesn’t even mention the severe mental diseases mentioned above.

SAMHSA invited “expert” testimony from a guy named Daniel Fisher who directs a group called the National Empowerment Center. He called severe mental illness  as being merely “severe emotional distress” and “a spiritual experience.”

I’m not making this up.

He is suspicious of the entire mental health system, claiming “the covert mission of the mental health system … is social control.” One of Mr. Fisher’s associates proclaimed that “mental illness is a coping mechanism, not a disease.”

SAMHSA likes people like this who think “outside of the box.” At one of their conferences in the 90s, one of their speakers said “schizophrenia is a healthy, valid, desirable condition — not a disorder . . . what is called schizophrenia in young people appears to be a healthy transformational process that should be facilitated instead of treated.”

Just a few years ago, another free thinker excitedly proclaimed mental illnesses as “extreme states of consciousness that are mad gifts to be nurtured and cultivated.”

Tell that to the hundreds of victims who died with a bullet in their brains at the hands of a madman.

Writing in the National Review, Dr. Fuller Torrey and D.J. Jaffe explained the frivolous new age ideology this government agency takes:

“SAMHSA’s only recommended “treatment” for all mental illnesses is the “recovery model” — in other words, everyone should simply recover. This is similar to the Caucus race in Alice in Wonderland in which the Dodo declares that “everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

The “recovery model” was officially defined by SAMHSA in 2004 as including ten “fundamental components,” the most important being that it is “self-directed by the individual, who defines his or her own life goals and designs a unique path towards those goals.” The “recovery model” includes no mention of the need for medication or other specific treatments. It makes no allowance for the fact that many individuals with severe mental illness are unaware of their own illness.

This is an ideology, not a treatment. Under the “recovery model,” John Hinckley was defining his own life goal — the attention of Jodie Foster — when he shot President Reagan. Similarly, Cho, Loughner, Holmes, and Lanza were presumably attempting to define and achieve their life goals, too. Their actions would meet SAMHSA’s definition of “recovery.”

Dr. Torrey is the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and author of American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System. D. J. Jaffe is the executive director of

Will there be more mass shootings? Absolutely. As long as people with severe mental diseases roam the streets without treatment, people will continue to get hurt. Right now, the liberals are in the drivers seat, and they view these poor, ill people as victims of society.

I think of Joe and legions like him who might still be alive today if only they had received sound, evidence-based treatments instead of the new age religion tax payers are currently funding.


  1. JoeC on September 20, 2013 at 8:29 am

    The mentally ill were pushed to become “deinstitutionalized” by the left and funding was cut on a federal level by the right. A “perfect storm” that resulted in many mentally ill who found themselves homeless.

    “Conventional wisdom suggests that the reduction of funding for social welfare policies during the 1980s is the result of a conservative backlash against the welfare state. With such a backlash, it should be expected that changes in the policies toward involuntary commitment of the mentally ill reflect a generally conservative approach to social policy more generally. In this case, however, the complex of social forces that lead to less restrictive guidelines for involuntary commitment are not the result of conservative politics per se, but rather a coalition of fiscal conservatives, law and order Republicans, relatives of mentally ill patients, and the practitioners working with those patients. Combined with a sharp rise in homelessness during the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness ”

    From //

  2. JoeC on September 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm

  3. […] This was the expected response to my essay, “The Politics of Mental Health”: […]