In an address during which he wiped away tears, President Barack Obama last week dared Republicans to finance mental health reform as part of a package of executive actions meant to combat gun violence.
“For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here's your chance to support these efforts,” he said. “Put your money where your mouth is.”
Obama asked for $500 million to improve mental health services. But even White House press secretary Josh Earnest admitted the administration doesn't expect Congress to grant the funding, adding that he would “be happy to be proved wrong.”
While mental health advocates largely support the call for more funding, they are now stuck linking mental health and gun violence—two issues they've wished would remain separate.
“We desperately need mental health reform and increased funding for mental health services independent of the whole gun debate,” said Ron Honberg, national director of policy and legal affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He and others believe talking about reforming mental healthcare as a way to fix the country's gun violence epidemic propagates a stigma that's often responsible for the lack of treatment among almost half of the estimated 44 million Americans with mental illness.
According to HHS, people with severe mental illness account for 3% to 5% of all violent acts. Those individuals are actually 10 times more likely than the general population to be the victims of violent crime.
“The real issue here is that there's a huge problem with mental health,” said John Snook, executive director at the Treatment Advocacy Center, adding that he supports talking about solutions within any context.
And all signs point to the right climate for actual change.