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Posted by on Mar 22, 2016 in 2016 Presidential Election, Mental Health, Politics | 16 comments

Where Does the GOP Stand on Mental Health Issues?

With his characteristic snark in full effect, Bernie Sanders said at a recent town hall that the GOP Presidential debates are proof “we need to invest” in mental health issues in this country.

It’s hard to fault him on that score. If the Republicans have proved anything in recent years, it’s that their minds are a twisted mess of contradictory beliefs. “Limited government” with a massive military? Sure, why not! More tax cuts for the rich while claiming to stand up for the “little guy?” Absolutely!

How they manage to function at all with that level of cognitive dissonance going on is, frankly, a mystery.

But where does the GOP actually stand on the mental health issues that affect the people they claim to govern? The answer, regrettably, is pretty typical for Conservative politics.

Mental Health and Guns

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the ties between mental health and America’s gun violence epidemic — as well as the GOP’s efforts to blame mass shootings on poor mental health rather than on our utterly insufficient gun control regulations.

After just about every one of our recent explosions of gun violence (and there have been far, far too many lately), the Republican candidates for the Presidency took to their soapboxes to claim that gun deaths in America are directly — and in some cases exclusively — attributable to poor mental health.

You don’t need to be a political scientist to figure out that this is nothing more than a smokescreen so they can avoid talking about the sort of common-sense gun control reforms that a majority of American citizens now support.

Here’s the problem, though. They’re not totally wrong. It’s very clear this is a war on two fronts: a fight to make sure the mentally ill can’t get their hands on guns, and a fight to ensure we have fewer mentally ill Americans in the first place. But they’re quick to pawn off the gun problem on America’s mentally ill, they’re far less forthcoming in providing actual policy proposals to address, study and fund mental health causes in this country.

None of the past or current GOP Presidential frontrunners have floated such a proposal — including Trump, Bush, Carson, Fiorina or Rubio. In other words, they’re giving us more meaningless lip service with no intention of addressing the problem in a substantial way.

Putting America’s Mental Health Problem Into Perspective

Let’s make the problem a little more real, shall we? All of the empty promises and non-existent policy proposals now being floated by GOP leadership mean nothing if we don’t understand the underlying issue.

According to the latest data, about 61.5 million Americans experience mental illness of some kind in a given year. If you’re doing the math, that works out to one in four adults — that’s a lot. However, the lack of public attention on this issue is directly responsible for a number of pervasive misunderstandings of what mental health even is, and how it can be treated.

How many other issues affect one in four adults but receive next to no attention in Presidential debates? Not many.

Here’s another dose of perspective, too. In Daniel Gardner’s masterful book “The Science of Fear,” he posits that an American citizen could take one plane flight every month for a full year and only subject himself to a “1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking.” Despite these long odds, almost every single GOP Presidential debate has spent an insanely disproportionate amount of time discussing “radical Islam” and “terrorism.”

How about we talk about the real issues facing real Americans, instead of stoking the public’s fear?

Masters of the Ironic

If we really want to get to the core of the GOP’s “stance” on mental health, we need to look past their words and take a direct look at their recent actions.

If you had to guess, what would you say was the GOP’s reaction when President Barack Obama gave the Republicans exactly what they asked for? Namely, a proposal to provide $500 million to America’s woefully under-funded mental health system.

Remember — Republicans explicitly blame mental health issues on America’s totally disproportionate market share of global firearm deaths.

If you guessed their reaction was “nothing at all,” you’d be mostly right. President Obama did exactly that earlier this year. He offered to increase funding for the institutions that are directly responsible for studying and responding to mental health issues. “Put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

The Republicans politely declined — most of them, anyway. A very small handful of them, such as Bill Cassidy and Tim Murphy, are actively working with their Democratic counterparts to introduce progressive legislation that would, among other things, increase the number of hospital beds available for psychiatric patients and create an entirely new Cabinet position.

For the most part, however, Republicans either ignored Obama’s proposal or met it with their now-familiar battle cries of “Government overreach!” and “Thus always to tyrants!”

Nevertheless, with all of the fruitless partisan bickering and the characteristic stonewalling from the Republican side of the aisle, the bipartisan efforts described above are an encouraging sign of things to come. Mental health is finally having its moment in the national spotlight, and it’ll eventually get the real-world response it deserves — even if we have to wait until our current Congress is served their walking papers this November.

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