The New England Journal of Medicine published an op-ed by Katherine Record, Senior Fellow at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. _________________________________
By Katherine L. Record, J.D., M.P.H.
“We all have situations in our lives,” Antoinette Tuff reminded the heavily armed Michael Brandon Hill, as he stood before her holding an Atlanta elementary school hostage. Seeing the terror in Hill’s eyes, Tuff did something that is all too rare — she reassured him that he was not alone, that he could find treatment, feel better, and have another day.
Hill was lucky: Tuff saved him from making the gravest mistake of his life and spending the rest of it behind bars. She may even have saved his life, not to mention those of the terrified children in the building.
Yet Tuff should not have been the first to recognize that Hill had stopped taking his medications and that his bipolar disorder was spinning out of control. As was the case with many perpetrators of recent gun-related tragedies, Hill’s condition was no secret: he was sick and needed care.
The same was true of Aaron Alexis. The 34-year-old veteran had sought treatment twice, just weeks before he murdered 12 civilians in the Washington Navy Yard. He had visited a Veterans Affairs hospital and had spelled out his symptoms to police: hotel walls were emitting microwaves and speaking to him. The police passed his reports on to the Navy, but the military took no action to help him secure care.
People with severe mental illness account for a negligible fraction of crime, and mental illness alone is not a predictor of violence.1 Yet the haunting recurrence of massacres perpetrated by people known to have symptoms of untreated conditions demands attention — and not just from the press, which uses these stories to associate mental illness with unspeakable violence, a link that perpetuates groundless stigma. Rather than ignore the common thread running through these cases, in an attempt to avoid propagating the myth that all mentally ill people are dangerous, we must take the opportunity to highlight the dreary outlook the mentally ill currently face.
Continue reading the full Op-Ed in the New England Journal of Medicine here.