Now some people may feel comfortable with this statement. Not me. I became upset. In fact, I awoke my wife to tell her my feelings. She wisely suggested that I calm down.
Why was I upset? Because comments like this perpetuate and reinforce stigmas about mental illness that prevent people from getting help. After all, this year 25 percent of the population will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness that should be treated. Forty percent of them will not get help. I asked myself, “How many people who own guns and also struggle with mental illness will seek treatment because now they fear their guns will be taken away?”
There is already too much scarring people off from receiving treatment. I recently read that medical doctors who report mental illness on applications have a difficult time getting licensed. The result? Many lie and avoid getting treatment. Airplane pilots face similar challenges. For most of these people, the mental health issues they face have no more impact on their ability to perform well than having a runny nose at the tail end of a cold.
Sometimes I wonder what our world would be like if there had been litmus tests for mental illness for political, religious, and other leaders. Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others would have been silenced. These men didn't significant impact the course of human history despite their mental illness issues. They did, in part, because of it. They learned resilience, creativity, empathy, and other noble traits.
After I totally gave up on sleeping this morning, I arose and checked the internet to learn the context of Governor Cuomo’s remarks. Sure enough, the little snippet reported on the news didn’t tell the whole story. He was suggesting that those with mental illness whose behaviors indicate they could hurt others should be prohibited from possessing guns. Sounds reasonable.
Mischaracterizations like the one I heard on the news are so unfortunate. They negatively impact many people.