- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I take exception to White House spokesman Jay Carney’s statement this week that mental illness is a component of our gun-violence problem (“Obama skirts gun issue at mental health event,” Web, June 3). It’s not mental illness, but untreated mental illness that is the component of gun violence. Yes, guns can kill. Severely mentally ill people should not be allowed to purchase guns or have access to them. Untreated mental illness also kills. Combine the two, and you have a tragedy waiting to happen.

Years ago, when we deinstitutionalized the mentally ill, states passed laws making it illegal to force mentally ill adults to be treated or take their medications. Once you turn 18, you have a civil right to refuse treatment and remain mentally ill until you become suicidal or homicidal, as determined by judges at commitment hearings. Only a small fraction of individuals with a diagnosed mental illness ever become violent, and then usually only when they fail to get treatment or take their medication. Catching the problem early is crucial. Yet parents seeking help are often turned away, or else lose control when their children turn 18.

The involuntary-commitment laws in this country give people with severe mental illness the right to decide when, where, how or even whether they will receive treatment. Yet some serious mental illnesses make it difficult for those affected to assess their need for treatment. When patient rights exceed necessary protections, individuals with a severe untreated mental illness can die, because we’ve protected their right to remain mentally ill and refuse treatment. Many die, and sometimes they harm others along the way.

I’m the mother of a son who suffered from severe and persistent bipolar disorder and took his life six years ago. His downward course was aided by a completely ineffective legal system that continually protected his civil right to remain severely mentally ill and refuse treatment.

Mental illness is not going away. We must find a balance between protecting the rights of mentally ill people and acquiring the much-needed treatment such people require to not be a threat to society. Gun control is not the answer.

DOTTIE PACHARIS

West River, Md.

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