The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Mental Illness and Access to Guns

Jun 6, 2022

Following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said, "We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health." In part, politicians like Abbott point to the mental illness of mass shooters to deflect calls for gun control laws, such as stronger background checks, for instance, that might prevent the mentally ill from purchasing high-powered rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

It’s rather ironic for Abbott to point to the need for better mental health care, when his state of Texas ranks last among the 50 states in access to mental health care, according to the non-profit organization Mental Health America (MHA). Texas has had mass shootings before, such as at a high school near Houston in 2018, and another at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019. And what have Abbott and the other politicians done to correct the mental health care system in Texas since then?

Of course, many mass shooters would not fit currently accepted notions of mental illness. Nonetheless, information about some school shooters has indicated they suffered from mental health problems.

The case of the Uvalde shooter, Salvador Ramos, provides a pretty good example. Ramos’s friend, Santos Valdez, Jr., tells of how Ramos was bullied in school over a speech impediment. After he posted a picture of himself online wearing black eyeliner, others directed anti-gay slurs at him. When another close friend who defended Ramos in school moved away because his mother relocated for a new job, Ramos went downhill and dropped out of school.

Mental illness is a widespread problem in the U.S. and carries stigma and shame that make people shy away from seeking help from others. In 2020, about one out of five adults in the U.S. said they suffered from some type of mental illness in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The Centers for Disease Control found that anxiety and depression tripled in the first 10 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yet mental illness often goes untreated. More than half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment, according to MHA. Over 60% of young people with depression do not receive treatment. In Texas, the figure is nearly three out of four.

Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand and the systems of health care for both are lacking in this country. Even with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), about 11% of Americans remain uninsured and over 20% of adults under age 65 are underinsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund. About 40% of Americans have deductibles of at least $1,000 and were much more likely to report they had problems paying medical bills.

The problem is even worse for mental health care coverage. Health insurers commonly avoid paying for mental health care, according to mental health advocates, public officials and government reports. In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring health care plans covering 50 or more workers to provide mental health benefits on par with other health care services. The ACA extended this coverage to individual and small group plans in 2010. Yet there are many reports that insurers still refuse to pay for mental health coverage, and investigations into such refusals by the Labor Department are slow or simply don’t happen.

All this in the wealthiest country in the world! A society that puts profits for the wealthy and their corporations over the well-being of the population is not about to solve this problem, particularly not in the U.S. where every attempt to cut into the profits of health insurers, medical systems and pharmaceutical companies is resisted to the core.

That’s not to mention that both mental and physical health problems are social problems and that this system based on exploitation, inequality, and division—in other words, capitalism—is not about to solve either physical or mental illness. It needs to be replaced.