Seriously, President Trump: Can Government Define Sanity?

Can government tell us what’s sane?

Trump also called on mental health laws to be reformed in his third major proposal. He said the new laws would help to “better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence.” He also called for such individuals to not only get treatment but, “when necessary, involuntary confinement.”

“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he added.

I don’t agree with President Trump on this one. Mental illness does not pull the trigger. Bad, evil ideas do. Bad choices do.

There are plenty of mentally ill people who would never hurt a fly. The problem is that some people choose to impose their will on others.

There is no widespread agreement on a definition of mental illness, even in the mental health world. I know that from 30 years of being a mental health professional. This field is more in its infancy (if not embryonic stage) than many seem to realize.

The only agreement among mental health professionals is that if you’re delusional (on a common sense level, about obvious things) and/or hallucinating, you’re mentally ill, assuming it’s not caused by a known medical problem such as stroke or Alzheimer’s. Frankly, the rest of the field is largely opinion, some of it rational, and some of it not.

People recovering from strokes or Alzheimer’s are not running around shooting people, to show their support for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Adolf Hitler or whomever their hero is. Something else is going on with these shootings. I maintain it’s bad philosophy, bad ideas, and bad choices paired with a conviction that it’s ok to initiate force against strangers.

When you think about it, that’s our whole social and moral code: initiating force against strangers. The vast majority of us do it, by voting or by supporting that force when it’s initiated. Politicians are elected to steal and initiate force against our neighbors. Most of us are quite comfortable going to the voting booth to take income from one person and give it to another (including me, myself and I). If citizens don’t comply, they’re jailed, and if they run from jail they’re shot. It’s a more prolonged and hypocritical method than just going out and shooting people because you want socialism (or whatever it is), but in some respects, how is it any different? Be honest.

A lot of people who follow my posts want me to say it’s antidepressants or psychiatric drugs causing these shootings, because they know I’m a mental health professional. I see no basis for such a generalization. These drugs can be dangerous if you don’t take them as directed. In a minority of cases, yanking yourself off such drugs CAN lead you to be wildly irrational, perhaps violent. Not most of the time, but sometimes.

I agree kids and teens should not be indiscriminately prescribed these drugs, or maybe not at all, other than in limited ways. But it’s inaccurate to say it’s always the drugs, or even usually the drugs, causing violence. The ideas people have and the choices they make — whether age 16, 26 or 86 — are more determining than those physiological variables, although physiological factors are sometimes in play.

I don’t question President Trump’s good intentions. I don’t think he wants to force law-abiding, peaceful citizens to give up their guns. I just think he’s honesty mistaken here, fed a line of BS by people in my own mental health profession who have been effective commercially, but who are still wrong intellectually.

When this issue came up a couple of years ago, before Trump was President, here’s what I wrote:

What is “mental illness,” anyway? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. But do we want government authorities determining what mental illness is, under the law, so it may control people’s actions, including their right to buy guns to defend themselves? Or do we want government-paid psychiatric lackeys, hired by the government to provide official psychiatric diagnoses, to do what amounts to the same thing? They did this in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and elsewhere. All dictatorships do it.

It makes sense that authoritarians of all political stripes are interested in using tragedies to get into the mental health business. Authoritarian governments are interested in the mind, most of all. Censoring portions of a 911 call made by a shooter at the time of a mass murder because portions of the call are inconsistent with the agenda of the ruling regime is one form of controlling the mind via censorship. “What Americans don’t know won’t hurt them.” Another form of controlling the mind is for the government to have an official definition of what mental illness is. If you really think the government will remain objective when it comes to mandating psychiatric diagnoses, then you’re probably one of those people who still believes that under Obamacare, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it.”

The reasoning is as follows. “Mental illness causes most mass shootings. What else could cause people to erupt into savage violence? … If the government may take guns away from the mentally ill, then there will be fewer shootings.” Airtight logic, right? Unfortunately, the statement relies on two false premises. One, that there’s wide and absolute agreement on exactly what constitutes mental illness, even among mental health professionals; and two, that the government can be counted on to honestly and objectively use such a universal definition, assuming one even existed. Dr. Jeffrey Swanson [of Duke University] cites examples of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as instances of mental illness. Most mental health professionals will agree, but even within these diagnostic categories there are many shades of gray and disagreement among mental health professionals on the exact diagnoses. It’s not unusual for one mental health professional to think a patient is bipolar, while another mental health professional does not think so. Shall the government make the final call, deciding who may own a gun, or who may not?

I stand by that today. Government is the least qualified source – especially today – for defining what constitutes mental health and sanity.



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