By Shayna Lopez-Rivas

With 33,000 gun deaths each year in this country, it’s not surprising that the right of gun ownership gets called into question. This is especially is done by groups that have little to no understanding of firearms and like to scare people with large, malleable statistics. So let me break it down . . .

In an article published in Surgical Neurology International, author Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD states that guns are tools and that “responsibility for crimes rests on the criminals” behind the gun and those who enable them.

Pew Research shows that of the 33,000 deaths, 35% are homicides, nearly all caused by the non-law abiding. Less than 5% are accidents; preventing these requires education and training. 

The issue to address in this article is the rest of the 33,000 deaths—suicides, which Pew says make up the other 60% of firearm-related deaths. As a gun rights activist, I often hear arguments for restricting gun ownership due to mental illness—that by doing so we would be able to prevent suicide.

However, I do not see that restricting firearms ownership is a realistic means of prevention. Lack of ready access to good mental health care is the real gun suicide problem.

Tired of waking up screaming and sweating in the middle of the night, I made a decision one morning to see a psychiatrist and try medication. My therapist had said it could help, but until I lost sleep over the same nightmare for the seventeenth night in a row, I remained stubborn.

I thought I could beat back my trauma symptoms, stemming from being raped on my university campus, without medication. Turned out I was wrong, I realized I was wrong, and that morning I made the right decision for me and my mental health.

I never realized how hard it was going to be to see a psychiatrist who could diagnose me and prescribe the right medication at the right dose. My insurance could only be taken at one outpatient center in Tallahassee, Florida.

When I called that center and informed them I had a referral from a therapist and a victim advocate, they told me I could call back in three months.

Misunderstanding, I thought they would give me an appointment in three months but, no—I could call back in three months and just maybe, they would have an appointment available in another 3 months. My mental health was hinging on a “maybe” for at least six months from the time I originally called!

Curious about how usual the delay in care was, I undertook a bit of an experiment. I called the center multiple times every few months over an 18-month period to see if I could ever get an appointment. I never could, even with those referrals.

Though unstated, they made it clear: if I was not in an acute crisis, if I was not actively suicidal or homicidal, then I was not getting help from them.

This experiment showed something important—that at least where I live, the mental health care system we have in place is failing our community. In fact, I checked—Florida is one of the worst states for an individual to access mental health care.

Thankfully, my insurance changed and I was quickly able receive help from a qualified psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The medication I was put on did wonders and eventually, as I became better able to process my trauma, I no longer needed to take it.

However, I know that if I ever did need my psychiatrist again, his office would schedule me in a heartbeat because, first and foremost, they provide quality care.

Unfortunately, while I received great care, that is not the case for so many other people. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states, “The best way to reduce [risk of violence/suicide] is through treatment. Yet less than one-third of adults and half of children with a diagnosed mental illness receive mental health services in a given year.”

Research shows that those with mental illnesses such as depression are at higher risk for suicide. And though having unsecured firearms in the home can lead to increased risk of impulsive suicide, treatment lowers the overall risk of suicide far more. If only people could access the care they need before they become actively suicidal.

There are ways to intervene with suicidal and homicidal people—this happens every day in America. Unfortunately for many, that intervention never takes place. Why? Better yet, why does it take more than a year and a half to get an appointment with a local mental health center?

If I, as a middle class college student with private insurance, cannot get access to care what happens to those more disadvantaged than I? Must all people be acutely in crisis before they can obtain the care they desperately need?

I strongly support the Second Amendment. I don’t believe anyone should be denied the freedom to exercise their rights or protect themselves without due process. Anti-gun groups have suggested that health care providers be required to report individuals’ mental illnesses to the FBI, which runs the National Instant Background Check System required for most gun purchases and some states’ carry permits.

An open letter by Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), states, “knowledge that voluntarily seeking mental health care could subject someone to inclusion in a state or federal database will serve as a powerful deterrent for people to seek help when they need it most.”

An article by psychiatrist Robert B. Young, MD of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (www.DRGO.us), discusses this possibility. “The prospect that anyone in emotional distress could be prohibited from legal gun ownership for life is reasonable cause for panic,” the article states and goes on to say that “half of all Americans experience at least one episode of diagnosable psychiatric illness during their lifetimes.

Prohibiting all of those would vastly restrict the number of Americans who could retain their constitutional right to keep and bear arms over time.” According to Dr. Young, “The trick is to be discriminating and to ensure due process throughout, which is very limited in laws that try to address these risks.”

When I asked Dr. Young how he deals with PTSD, the disorder I’ve endured, he said, “Just like assessing anyone, the question is their potential to hurt themselves or others, not any particular disorder.  This is what makes the Feds’ intent to deprive Veterans and Social Security recipients…of their guns so wrong.”

Let me make this very clear: Restricting guns from people who want to protect themselves while seeking help for their emotional distress is an infuriating policy decision.

As a rape survivor, I shouldn’t be worried about writing this article. I shouldn’t have to fear legal penalties because I am willing to go public about my need for mental health care. I certainly should be able to have mental health help without risking my Second Amendment rights.

Guns don’t cause suicide any more than they cause murder. People can choose many different ways to harm themselves. So maybe, instead of fixating on the tool, we should focus on getting people the care they need beforethey pull a trigger or take or take the bridge. Restricting individual’s rights because they are seeking help is just punitive.

Shayna Lopez-Rivas studies Criminology and Sociology at Florida State University. She is the Vice President of Students for Concealed Carry at FSU, a survivor, advocate, and activist. She can be reached at ShaynaLopezRivas@gmail.com.

(This post originally appeared at drgo.com and is reprinted here with permission.)

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35 Responses to Rape Survivor: Lack of Access to Mental Health Care is the Real Gun Problem

  1. Sorry for her experience and glad she has recovered. Paradoxically (but not in the land of Obama – it’s how he wanted it to be) she would probably find, if she continues her research, that “those more disadvantaged than” she can probably get mental health services quicker because at least some of them will be on Medicaid, and the crazier they are, the more likely they will get Medicaid. As a privately insured person with sh*tty insurance, she was screwed – again. Otherwise she is spot on.

    • I came here to say the same thing.

      Working in PD work one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of the section 8 dwellers I come across is they make their living off SSDI. A girl I arrested and took before ghe magistrate was asked what her occupation was during the bond hearing. She said she was on disability for being bipolar. She received 1500 dollars per month, plus Medicaid, section 8, EBT, etc etc. And like you said, she could assuredly have better access to mental health services than someone on private insurance.

      As to why the system is like this, at least in VA it’s because it’s not large enough to meet the needs, even for those in crisis. It’s not uncommon for us to drive someone in custody on a TDO 3-4 hours to a facility, just because it’s the closest one in the state with an available bed.

  2. “responsibility for crimes rests on the criminals”

    I feel like I’ve heard this before

    Anyone claiming healthcare of any kind has improve because of recent administrations is sorely misinformed and it’s a subject that often goes unnoticed

    Mental health is one of the most difficult to recognize and treat before it becomes a crisis and often too late

    • In addition to potentially losing one’s civil rights after voluntarily seeking treatment for a mental health problem, I figure many folks avoid treatment due to the social stigma attached to it.
      No one wants to be called “crazy”. No one who is seeing a psychiatrist or therapist really wants to post it on Facebook.
      Think of this: if someone is seeing a cardiologist due to a heart condition, does society view that person as defective and untrustworthy? Is a diabetic less stable a person because their pancreas doesn’t work correctly?
      So why do we still – in the twenty-first century – still look sideways at someone whose brain may not be functioning quite right? Why is the first reaction to put some distance between that person and ourselves or worse, to make fun of them?
      I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. But we as a species, not just as a society, need to grow up and realize that the brain is still another organ that like the heart, lungs, spine, etc. can still be subject to flaws or damage and this defect does not make the sufferer a bad person.
      Just as everyone needs to see a doctor occasionally in life, many of us need a special doctor or therapist to help with problems that cannot always be seen. That’s just life.
      If any of you out there are struggling with some past demons or traumatic experiences that are keeping you up at night (looking at you veterans out there), go get help. You are not weak or weird, you just can’t fix the problem alone. That’s why we are considered a social species, we rely on each other. But some of us still suck at it, shame on them.
      No more judgments.

      • I mean, i get your point. And as someone who has had to deal with mental illness myself in my own life, I certainly have sympathy. BUT, its completely disingenuous to equate pancreatic or cardiac disease to mental disease, especially as far as the way they are viewed by society. A person suffering from cardiac disease poses basically zero threat to me. You ask:

        “So why do we still – in the twenty-first century – still look sideways at someone whose brain may not be functioning quite right? Why is the first reaction to put some distance between that person and ourselves”

        Why? Because someone who is thinking irrationally, suffering command hallucinations, incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions, have difficulty with impulse control, prone to emotional lability etc. poses a DISTINCT risk to those around them. And those are just some of the more mild/less violent symptoms of various mental illnesses. When you factor in the more rare situations like psychopathy/sociopathy, complete lack of empathy for others, obsession with violence, etc it’s even worse. Anyone who has experience with individuals suffering form a wide range of mental illness, or even who has scanned the DSM can see that mental illnesses can come with a whole host of risks to those around the ill person, that just don’t exist with other medical conditions.

        A better comparison would be between dangerous infections diseases and mental disease. If I know a person has smallpox/ebola/whatever, I’m certainly not going to JUDGE them, or think they’re a bad person, or less human or anything. I’ll have sympathy for them, do what I can do help them and others like them. But I’m not going to involve them in my life or the lives of my loved ones anymore than absolutely necessary, because they pose a distinct risk. ditto mental illness. Its just prudent and practical. Realz over Feelz bro.

  3. Well phrased, good luck on your journey I hope it takes you better places than you’ve been.

  4. Good for you for choosing to be stronger and better, and choosing the path of ballistic justice to ensure your future safety.

  5. Where I live in Far Northern California, critical care or crisis care for mental health issues is nonexistent. There are no facilities at all for severe suicidal episodes in all but one of the northern counties, and my county, Shasta, has only 20 beds, which are of course nearly always full. The next nearest center is Sacramento/Davis. There are no critical care facilities, AFAIK, in any of the mountain counties. Thus, vast areas of the state are unserved or underserved, and patients have to travel or be transported sometimes hundreds of miles to find inpatient treatment.

    The other side of that coin is that there just isn’t any money to pay for services, and the counties with low populations, such as Tehama, Siskiyou, Modoc and Lassen do not generate enough of a case load to make provision of services on an inpatient basis economically feasible.

  6. One could almost believe that there is some force at work to ensure health care is being denied unless you are in an immediate crisis. The same type of crisis that has been marked as a means to eliminate your right to bear arms.

  7. “As a gun rights activist, I often hear arguments for restricting gun ownership due to mental illness—that by doing so we would be able to prevent suicide.”

    Here it should be noted that the United States is in the middle third, or middle, of suicide stats. Some Euro-topias are much higher–Poland, Ukraine, Belgium.

    Yes, mental health care access is an issue, one apparently not solved by Obamacare. But suicides are an issue in which the US is mid pack and gun-free utopias often fare worse.

  8. A fine article but her situation missed an obvious solution: she could have paid out of pocket to see a psychiatrist or psychologist.

    If she had picked up the phone, called the office, said she was paying cash (or credit cards), she could have had an appointment the same day. For $50-100, she could have met with a health professional and started solving her problem. Too many people confuse health insurance with health care, and they aren’t the same.

    There might be a stigma to mental health issues and rape, but I imagine if a woman told her parents what had happened to her, they would have stepped in and helped pay for the cost of seeing a mental health professional. Unfortunately, most people never tell people they are in crisis and ask for help.

    Sadly, this applies to people that commit suicide as well. They don’t want to admit they have a problem or ask for help. Their thinking short circuits such that they don’t see a way out.

    • I saw a therapist by paying out of pocket. A psychiatrist would have been $350 for the first consultation, than $250 for every one thereafter if I paid out of pocket. I qualify for work-study and Pell grants, neither my mom nor I could afford that. And my mom certainly did know the circumstances. The truth is, most places genuinely don’t have doctors that can take on another case. Lack of access to care is a severe issue in this country.

  9. Sorry for whatever life has thrown your way, but get on with life. The entire PTSD is just the latest fad cashcow discovery of the Pshrink con-industry with their handholding, mumbojumbo and drugs. That there is a “shortage” of shrinks just means the price stays high. Another “problem” that is actually a feature.

    Actual nutters need to be locked up. Nothing has really changed since the ACLU progtards arrived on scene in the 60s and screw the system that was actually largely working. Shrinks didn’t CURE crazies then either.

    • what??

      in case you haven’t notice, the country is still operating under Obama’s health care program and has been for about 7 1/2 years.

  10. Go take a look at the suicide rates of South Korea and Japan, if I remember they are almost triple and double the suicides rates of the US. Both of those countries have extremely limited access to firearms (I mean Europe is lenient compared to Japan and South Korea). BTW many European countries have higher suicide rates than the US, even with their more restricted gun access.

    • the suicide rate in gunless Japan is far higher than the suicide rate and murder rate in the US combined!

  11. While she makes some relevant points, let’s not forget that psychiatry is a religion. All of it’s diagnoses are based solely on opinion, and the entire ‘mental illness is a brain chemistry imbalance’ is pure fiction, thereby making its chemical treatment of behaviors and subjective complaints very experimental.

    • What the hell are you talking about? Do you believe vaccines cause autism too and that the world is flat?

        • Where do I begin? YOU made claims. YOU provide proof.

          1. Psychiatry is a Religion. Prove it, no it isn’t.
          2. All diagnoses are based on opinion. That is incorrect entirely.
          3. Mental illness being a chemistry imbalance is backed by science, nice try.

          Please prove that anything you said is true nutter-butter.

        • Jeff, if you are saying that the diagnostic codes used in the DSM IV are confirmed/denied by lab tests, that’s news, please cite that. Also cite the proof of brain chemistry imbalance. It’s one of those urban legends that’s been repeated for so long that most (uninformed) people assume it to be true. Again, if you have scientific documentation showing this false, cite it. I enjoy learning new things. Otherwise you are asking me to prove a negative. Anyone who has taken(and passed) a high school science class knows this cannot be done, and it up to the person stating a claim, ie. there IS brain chemistry balance, or there ARE objective measures, lab tests, to confirm diagnoses in the DSM. and no the earth is not flat, and on the vaccines, I’ll quote Dr. Paul Offit, spokesperson for the US vaccine industry..”You can never really say that MMR doesn’t cause autism”. You make your own opinion on that.

        • You probably fancy yourself a master at moving the goal posts, huh? You make specious claims, then when asked to back them up you change your claims entirely. You sound like you have a mental disorder. Again:

          1. Psychiatry is a Religion. Prove it, no it isn’t.
          2. All diagnoses are based on opinion. That is incorrect entirely.
          3. Mental illness being a chemistry imbalance is backed by science, nice try.

        • Wow. “Moving the goalposts” is what the professional trolls use when they are backed into a corner and need to deflect to escape. YOU are making claims that objective measures, lab tests, exist to confirm or deny a diagnosis. YOU are stating brain chemistry exists, which can be treated/corrected. You should be able to easily find citations for these things YOU claiming exist. Are you a professional troll? Or purposely being evasive for whatever motive? BTW, “You sound like you have a mental disorder” is your OPINION, thank you for proving my point.

        • Wrong, its a logical fallacy fools like you use to not have to back up claims they know have no basis in reality.

          YOU made the claims. YOU back them up. That is how this works you slow witted dunce. YOU. Not me. I challenged you to back them up, you still haven’t.

          Back them up, or shut the hell up.

        • You’re an idiot, and I generally avoid ad hominem, but in this case it’s impossible. Good luck with Bigfoot, Nesse, cause you know, no one’s actually proven they DON’T exist yet.

      • Are you insane? You’re the one claiming psychiatry is a “religion” and all diagnoses are just opinions despite decades of studies. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, you probably think the earth is flat.

        Holy shit. How do you even turn your computer on? Do you think it’s powered by magical God juice?

        • “Decades” of studies….cite some showing objective measures confirming mental illness. Should be easy. While you’re at it, cite the mental disorders that you are aware of that we can diagnose using lab tests. Should be a piece of cake. Note how you are now using the word “insane” because I disagree with you, much like religion uses words like heretic, denier, ect on people that disagree.

    • pg2 is full of nonsense.

      ”You can never really say that MMR doesn’t cause autism” is a stupid statement. We know for a FACT that vaccines vastly reduce the risk of diseases, in many cases to near zero. We also know for a FACT that the original study claiming a link between vaccines and autism has been discredited and withdrawn.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/

      Your comments about mental health are also just stupid. The links between depression and brain chemistry are not that well understood, but the links are much, much better substantiated than the links between vaccines and autism (which are NOT substantiated in the least). About 1/3 of depression patients taking meds get relief, and another 1/3 get some relief. So it works well or partially for 2/3s of patients.

      it’s just moronic to cling to a refuted link between vaccines and autism while AT THE SAME TIME denying a somewhat well demonstrated link between depression and brain chemistry.

      So leave the lady alone and stop talking as if you are an expert on her issues.

      • The quote is from Dr. Paul Offit, who is arguably the most visible and vocal vaccine proponent in the country, if not the world. You can interpret his statement whatever way you want. Your reference to Wakefield is both incorrect and incomplete. His retracted study was a case study, which had no data, nor made any conclusions regarding vaccines and autism. In his conclusion he stated the possible relationship[MMR and autism] should be further studied. He was a GI doctor, studying GI disorders. Dozens of studies have replicated the findings in his study which did show a GI link and autism.
        “Your comments about mental health are also just stupid. The links between depression and brain chemistry are not that well understood” -again, more opinion, whatever. If you’re coming from a scientific standpoint, cite some of the science.

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