First, let me make my opinion very clear, President Obama’s recent Executive Action was a very necessary and important step toward more responsible gun safety. I also believe other measures are necessary. While none of the steps toward gun safety include removing guns from anyone who currently owns them, they would require a full reporting of the purchase and sale of all weapons and ammunition as well as additional training in gun safety for currently licensed and all future gun owners. I also applaud the President’s commitment to increasing mental health research funding, but on this matter I believe more could have been done.
At first glance, the $500 Million being earmarked for mental health research funding seems like a huge deal, and in some ways it is. But it isn’t as big as you might think, and I’ll get into that a little further on.
“For every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken by a bullet from a gun, every time I think about those kids it gets me mad,” Obama said. “All of us need to stand up and protect our citizens.”
To combat gun violence, Obama is taking multiple executive actions. He wants to spend $500 million to increase access to mental health care and mental health information for conducting background checks. He called on different agencies including the Social Security Administration to report more data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to bolster background checks.
Now I applaud the President for clarifying that most of us with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, and for stating that we need to remove the stigma of mental illness. But I feel that refusing the right to legally purchase guns to those with mental illnesses may add to the stigmatization. The reality is that mental illness varies widely from mild to severe and covers numerous different illnesses. Lumping all mental illnesses into a single group may make those who need help less likely to seek it.
Obama made clear that the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent and that they are far more likely to be victims of a violent crime.
“We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone. While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system,” Obama said in a statement released Monday. “In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them.”
Mental Health Research Funding
But this isn’t about that part of the Executive Order, this is about the implications the action has on mental health research funding. According to Ron Honberg, national director of policy and legal affairs for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), states have cut funding by more than $4 Billion since the recession began. While the $500 Million the President is putting towards mental health research is welcome, we are still $3.5 Billion short of where we were before the financial crisis of 2007.
In 2005, the budget of the National Institutes of Mental Health was $1,411,933,000. Accounting for inflation only, the 2015 budget should have been $1,715,834,769.52 according to an inflation calculator. The actual 2015 budget for the NIMH was only $1,463,036.00, in 2016 the budget climbs to $1,489,417.00.
I am hopeful that the new focus on mental health research puts it on a path toward parity with the funding for other illnesses. With the economy in recovery, now is the time to put pressure on our state and national representatives to increase mental health research funding, as well as funding for mental health education and care.