Opinion: Mental Illness Does Not Cause Mass Shootings. Mass Shootings Cause Mental Illness.

Austin therapists lay out Governor Greg Abbott’s abysmal record on supporting mental health access and education

Opinion: Mental Illness Does Not Cause Mass Shootings. Mass Shootings Cause Mental Illness.

Dear Governor Abbott,

You said, "Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge. Period."

As mental health professionals in Austin, we are outraged that you blamed the shooter's mental health for the massacre of 21 people. According to a National Library of Medicine study, people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator. Your statement further stigmatizes mental illness.

Your administration has an abysmal record of support for mental health access. Texas ranks last nationally for access to mental health care according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. Access to care is often limited by access to affordable insurance, quality treatment, special education, and time off work to seek services.

In April, you shifted $211 million from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees mental health programs, to border security. HHS claims the money was replaced with the same amount from CARES funding, but that funding is meant to provide economic aid to people affected by COVID. COVID severely impacted small communities like Uvalde.

We therapists know that mental illness, while sometimes genetic, is more often the consequence of environmental conditions within the family and society. A mass shooter is a symptom of societal fractures such as poverty. Poverty – in the form of hunger, substandard housing, nonexistent preschool, and lower-quality public schools – harms children. Texas ranks sixth in child hunger. The child poverty rate is 19%. A third of Texas' working families live 200% under the poverty line. Under your leadership, in 2015 the state refused to expand Medicaid, turning down $1 billion in federal funds which would have enabled many Texans to access medical care, including mental health.

Schools offer the best chance of identifying emotional vulnerability and providing counseling. Texas ranks 44th in school funding per child. A school district's emotional wellness counselor typically travels between four schools.

We 100% support strengthening mental health funding, services, and access in Texas. But let's be clear: Your administration's gun policies, making it easy to purchase and carry a gun, are the primary reason why 21 people died. Just last year, only two years after the mass shooting in El Paso, you pushed "constitutional carry," allowing anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun without a license or training, despite 60% of Texans opposing such permissiveness. The sole purpose of AR-15s is to kill brutally large numbers of people. They have been the weapon in almost all mass shootings. Yet Texas refuses to limit their availability to people as young as 18, an age when the brain's executive decision-making is not fully developed. Eighteen-year-olds aren't allowed to drink but they can buy AR-15s! All Salvador Ramos had to do was turn 18 and walk into a gun store and show proof of his age.

Under your governorship, child deaths from guns doubled from 54 in 2015 to 146 in 2020. Our gun laws, combined with our lack of mental health support, created the killing fields of Uvalde, El Paso, Santa Fe, and Sunderland Springs. No child feels safe.

That an 18-year-old can buy AR-15s and 1,600 rounds tells our children that we are willing to sacrifice them, that we value the right to own a gun with much less oversight than we require to drive a car over their right to a future. "Hardening" our schools into armed fortresses is not the answer. Work for bipartisan legislation that creates sensible regulations for gun ownership and use. It is critical that we keep AR-15s and all other assault weapons out of the hands of people younger than 21. Create a red flag law.

And meaningfully fund mental health services.

This op-ed was authored by therapists in the Austin area, both licensed professional counselors and social workers: Emily Adler, LMSW; Corinne Arles, LPC; Whitney Bradley, LMF-A; Lee Ann Cameron, LPC, SEP; Jennifer Carley, LMSW; Stacey Cholick, MA, LPC; Stacy Covington, LPC; Siobhan Florek, LCSW; Kathryn Gates, LMFT; Rachel Ladov, LCSW; Leila Levinson, LCSW, JD, LMSW; Eva Lorini, LPC; Melanie Mahanger, MA, LPC; Lisa McCafferty, MA, NCC, LPC; Vanessa McNamara, LMFT, LPC; Pat Morgan, LPC; Stacy Nakell, LCSW, CGP; John Perry, LCSW; Jordana Raiskin, LCSW; Cynthia Schiebel, MEd, LPC-S, LCDC; Teri Schroeder, LCSW; William Schroeder, MA, LPC; Shaina Singh, LCSW; Emily Stone, Ph.D., LMFT-S; Monrovia van Hoose, LCSW; Roxanne Watson, LPC; Nora Zaizar, MEd, LPC; and Michelle Zadrozny, LCSW-S, EAS-C.

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