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Jim McKay Headshot

Guns and Mental Health in the U.S.: An Overdue Conversation

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I know the NRA thinks we should have a mandatory waiting period before we discuss guns after a gun related incident. But those comments themselves have a political purpose to protect the status quo.

The sad reality is if we want to do something about gun violence in this country, we need to expand the availability of mental health services and limit access of those who are mentally unstable from obtaining weapons.

As this chart from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes, only 40.2 percent of young adults age 18-25 with a serious mental illness received treatment in 2008. Plus, over half of those treatments consisted only of prescription drugs -- not outpatient or inpatient services.

If you are mentally ill, it is very hard to find services to help. It's much easier to find a gun. Gun dealers are ubiquitous in our society.

Just consider that there are 9 times as many gun dealers in the United States as there are McDonalds locations. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives numbers there are 129,817 licensed gun dealers in the U.S. (as of Aug. 1) compared to 14,098 McDonald's restaurants (McDonald's Corporation Annual Report 2011). Think about that when you see the golden arches -- know that there are 9 times as many gun dealers.

Meanwhile, mental health services are extremely lacking. HRSA reports as of Nov. 16, 2012 there are 89.3 million people living in Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the United States and "[i]t would take 5,972 practitioners to meet their need for mental health providers (a population to practitioner ratio of 10,000:1)."

I don't expect the NRA to come out in support of expanded mental health services any time soon though. They are more interested in arming even more people to "address" the problem.

We need to do something more effective to address this problem -- now. We can't afford to wait.

Our children are counting on us.