After mass murders carried out by lone gunmen, one popular refrain we hear is that “mental health” and “mental illness” are the real issues, and that we should talk about them more. OK, guys. Let’s chit chat, shall we?

First of all, “mental illness” is an incredibly broad term. It’s estimated that 20% of the American population has a mental illness. I myself have two, alcoholism and an anxiety disorder (which I tried to medicate with alcohol – terrible loop).

Statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator, and this includes self-inflicted violence. Suicide is more common than homicide and is one of the leading causes of death in America.

Robert Card didn’t fall through the cracks of Maine’s mental health “system” because Maine doesn’t have a mental health system. We have a patchwork quilt of resources, all of which are underfunded and overextended. If you or a loved one has had a mental health crisis beyond the bounds of a run of the mill bout of anxiety or depression that can be handled by a primary care doctor or a therapist, you probably already know this. And even then, how are you supposed to see a doctor for medication and a therapist for coping techniques if you don’t have the money for it?

The reason we don’t have a functional system is because we, as a state and as a country, do not value mental health care.

Heck, we don’t really even value physical health care, and that tends to involve ailments you can see and scan. I can’t help but notice that the sorts of politicians and lobbyists who point fingers at “mental health” after a mass shooting are the same ones who fight tooth and nail to cut and deny funding to mental health programs. After all, it sounds so woke and liberal. Who wants their tax dollars going to take care of other people’s feelings?


For better and for worse, America has a very individualized mindset. Health problems, including mental health, are issues for an individual person or family to solve, rather than a concern for the general public.

While there are still many unknowns about Card’s history and state of mind, what is already clear is that his family, friends and others who knew him raised concerns to plenty of people in authority, acknowledging that his mental health was deteriorating and that he could very well be a threat to himself or others. It reminds me of the case of Justin Butterfield, a Poland man with schizophrenia whose mental health began to deteriorate. Despite his family raising concerns that he desperately needed help, there were simply no resources available other than brief stabilizing hospital stays. Butterfield killed his brother Gabriel last November – a brother who, by all accounts, he loved very much when he was in his right mind.

Let’s say you fall down your stairs and break your leg in three places. You go to the emergency room where they make sure you are stable, maybe give you some pain medication. Then you’re transferred to the orthopedic unit for surgery. Let’s say the surgery goes well but you live on a second-floor walkup with no elevator; you might need to go to a rehab facility for a few weeks until your leg has healed enough for you to manage getting up and down your stairs. Once you’re discharged home, you have physical therapy a few times a week to rebuild the muscles and keep your healed leg fit and functional. This is how the health system should work.

Now, let’s say you break your leg but the orthopedic floor is overcrowded so you have to wait for a bed to open up so you’re stuck in the ER for two weeks (which will of course make the surgery more complicated than if you’d gotten it taken care of right away). Insurance will only pay for two weeks of rehab, so you have to drag yourself up your stairs with a cast still on your leg. Your physical therapist doesn’t have any openings for new patients for six months. Or maybe she does but you can’t afford to go, so you only go once a week instead of twice, or skip it completely. Under those circumstances, would you be surprised if your leg failed to heal? This is how our mental health system works.

This is not a knock on mental health professionals; they’re doing the emotional equivalent of fighting a forest fire with an eye-drop bottle.

No, it’s a knock on the rest of us, who refuse to care until there’s a body, or 18 bodies. And even then there are still folks who won’t care; who will shrug and say that some people are just crazy, or just evil, and by doing that absolve themselves of any responsibility whatsoever.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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