A few days ago The Balanced Mind posted a link on twitter to the presidential proclamation on mental health awareness month. I read the short proclamation, it sounds like a fantastic promotion of mental health. President Obama was clear and concise as always, talking about those that need help but don’t seek it, mentioning the national suicide hotline, specifying that getting help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. All of the words sound great, but it felt empty to me.
Why would it feel empty to someone who advocates daily for mental illness? This proclamation was made on April 30, 2013. Two weeks earlier, on April 17, the president had this to say about mental illness: “But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this.” The transcript can be found on the white house website and video can be seen from C-Span.
The statement made on April 17 made me really angry. Not because I feel those with severe mental illness have any business owning a gun, but because I really hate being lumped in with criminals. In my perfect world people with severe mental illness would not have guns, but not because they might be a danger to others. There are lots of reliable sources that indicate the opposite, some are listed here from the University of Washington School of Social Work, and still others are listed in this paper from World Psychiatry on the NIH website. I feel that people with severe mental illness, including myself, have no business owning a gun because of the danger they present to themselves. As someone living with an “invisible disability”, as well as being a cutter in recovery, I know better than most how split second decisions can be devastating. While I’ve not had any serious issues there have been times I took too many pills, unintentionally, to relieve anxiety and ended up being monitored overnight in the ER. I have made the decision to cut and dealt with pain and itching for weeks because of one poor choice. I’ve seen people inpatient that have made split second decisions and wound up with horrific frost bite, or just awoke from a coma. This is why I don’t want people with severe mental illness to have guns, that split second decision is more likely to be fatal with access to a gun.
What people with mental health issues need is the support that was shown in the April 30 proclamation, not the comparison to criminals from the April 17 statement. I wish I could easily forget the words President Obama spoke. Those are the only words I’ve heard him speak that incited anger from me. Conversations I had with people afterwards showed that America might not even understand which illnesses qualify as severe mental illness. It was a rash statement that made people think of mental disabilities like cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, as well as bipolar and schizophrenia. A few people told me I should not be offended because the president clearly didn’t mean me, I’m not handicapped. The fact of the matter is he did mean me. I sometimes explain my illness to people as “full on crazy” to make sure people understand how serious my issues can be: hallucinations, delusions, paranoia…I would love to take the kind words of encouragement from the National Mental Health Awareness month at face value, but right now it feels tainted.