Opinion: Mental illness does not cause mass shootings. Mass shootings cause mental illness. Austin therapists expose Gov. Greg Abbott’s abysmal record of supporting access to mental health and education – Chronicles
Dear Governor Abbott,
You said, “Anyone who shoots someone else has a mental health issue. Period.”
As mental health professionals in Austin, we are outraged that you blamed the shooter’s mental health for the massacre of 21 people. According to a National Library of Medicine study, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator. Your statement further stigmatizes mental illness.
Your administration has an abysmal record of supporting access to mental health. Texas ranks last nationally for access to mental health care according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. Access to care is often limited by access to affordable insurance, quality treatment, special education, and time off to seek services.
In April, you transferred $211 million from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees mental health programs, to Border Security. HHS says the money was replaced with the same amount of CARES funding, but that funding is intended to provide economic relief to those impacted by COVID. COVID has severely affected small communities like Uvalde.
We therapists know that mental illness, although sometimes genetic, is more often the consequence of environmental conditions within the family and society. A mass shooter is a symptom of societal fractures such as poverty. Poverty – in the form of hunger, substandard housing, non-existent preschools and substandard public schools – hurts children. Texas Rankings sixth in child hunger. The child poverty rate is 19%. One-Third of Texas Working Families live 200% below the poverty line. Under your leadership, in 2015 the state refused to expand Medicaid, withholding $1 billion in federal funds that would have provided many Texans with access to medical care, including mental health.
Schools offer the best chance of identifying emotional vulnerability and providing counselling. Texas ranks 44th in school funding per child. A school district’s emotional wellness counselor typically travels between four schools.
We 100% support strengthening mental health funding, services, and access in Texas. But let’s be clear: Your administration’s gun policies, which make it easier to buy and carry a gun, are the primary reason 21 people died. Last year, just two years after the mass shooting in El Paso, you pushed for “constitutional carry,” allowing anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun without a license or training, despite 60% of Texans opposed such permissiveness. The sole purpose of AR-15s is to brutally kill large numbers of people. They have been the weapon in almost every mass shooting. Yet Texas refuses to limit their availability to people as young as 18, an age when the brain’s executive decision-making is not fully developed. 18 year olds are not allowed to drink but they can buy AR-15s! All Salvador Ramos had to do was turn 18 and walk into a gun store and show proof of age.
Under your governorship, child gun deaths have doubled, from 54 in 2015 to 146 in 2020. Our gun laws, combined with our lack of mental health support, have created the fields of the deaths of Uvalde, El Paso, Santa Fe and Sunderland Springs. No child feels safe.
That an 18-year-old can buy AR-15s and 1,600 rounds tells our kids that we’re willing to sacrifice them, that we appreciate the right to own a gun with far less oversight than we have need to drive a car on their right to a future. “Hardening” our schools into armed fortresses is not the solution. Work for bipartisan legislation that creates sensible regulations for owning and using firearms. It is essential that we keep AR-15s and all other assault weapons out of reach of people under 21. Create a red flag law.
And significantly fund mental health services.
This editorial was written by Austin-area therapists, both licensed professional counselors and social workers: Emily Adler, LMSW; Corinne Arles, LPC; Whitney Bradley, LMF-A; Lee Ann Cameron, PLC, SEP; Jennifer Carley, LMSW; Stacey Cholick, MA, LPC; Stacy Covington, PLC; Siobhan Florek, LCSW; Kathryn Gates, LMFT; Rachel Ladov, LCSW; Leila Levinson, LCSW, JD, LMSW; Eva Lorini, PLC; Melanie Mahanger, MA, LPC; Lisa McCafferty, MA, CCN, PLC; Vanessa McNamara, LMFT, PLC; Pat Morgan, PLC; Stacy Nakell, LCSW, CGP; John Perry, LCSW; Jordana Raiskin, LCSW; Cynthia Schiebel, MEd, LPC-S, LCDC; Teri Schroeder, LCSW; William Schroeder, MA, PLC; Shaina Singh, LCSW; Emily Stone, Ph.D., LMFT-S; Monrovia van Hoose, LCSW; Roxanne Watson, PLC; Nora Zaizar, MEd, LPC; and Michelle Zadrozny, LCSW-S, EAS-C.