Gun Violence and Mental Health: Too Much Has Slipped Through the Cracks

By | November 6, 2015

Recently, the Minnesota community was rocked by an absolute tragedy. I do not wish to add to the wounds of the family so I will not use any quotes or names. After battling anxiety and depression for what is believed to be months, a Lake Minnetonka man took the lives of his wife, son, two daughters, and then turned the gun on himself. The bereaved family buried their lost relatives a few weeks ago and what stuck out to me were the words spoken about the family. A loving family who worked hard to get where they were … The American Dream. It saddens me that we as a community have yet again been affected by gun violence.

In just the last few months, we have witnessed the radical nature that is gun violence. From a disgruntled employee who gunned down his former co-workers on live television to numerous unexplained murders that occur across our nation, we have a problem with guns. Of the 16,121 homicides that occurred in 2013, 11,208 (69.5 percent) were due to firearms. Also during this same year, 21,175 (51.5 percent) suicides were caused by firearms. The NIH published an article called “Suicide: A Major, Preventable Mental Health Problem” in which a common sign of suicide is searching online for or buying a gun. The link between gun violence and mental health can be exemplified in suicide, depression, and other mental disorders are major risk factors associated with suicide.

Are guns the issue? Are people the problem? Or is it an extremely difficult question that cannot be answered with one issue or one policy change? At this point, the rhetoric surrounding the gun control debate belittles the lives lost due to gun violence. Everyone can agree that guns in the wrong hands can cause horrible calamities. Progressive action is needed rather than arguments over whose rights are being infringed upon. Families of the Sandy Hook victims, mayors across the nation, mothers throughout the U.S., and survivors of gun violence began an organization called “Everytown for Gun Safety.” Through a variety of actions, they hope to make every town safer by preventing gun violence. A noble goal but a difficult one to achieve.

We, as Public Health professionals, have an interesting role to play in this debate. Do we choose a side and enter the debate? Or do we sit back and deal with issues we believe are more important? In my opinion, we cannot do either. We must bring to light the issue in a fair and calculated way, utilizing statistics and empirical evidence to prove a link between gun access and gun violence. Further, we must substantiate the need for better background checks so that individuals who may be suffering from mental disorders are not allowed to obtain a gun. –Post written by Jake Tanumihardjo

[This blog does not represent the opinion of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public or the members of the Active Response Coalition for Public Health, only the author.]


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