America has a problem with something, and it isn’t Muslims. Could adequate mental health treatment have prevented the Pulse Orlando Tragedy?

By now everyone is fully aware of the terrible events of Sunday June 12th 2016 at Pulse Orlando, a local nightclub catering for the gay community in Florida.

Fifty individuals were brutally gunned down in a massacre described widely by national media and the President Barack Obama as the worst one of its kind in US history. Outrage over the targeting of not only the gay community, but the latino/hispanic community has led to an outpouring of national and international mourning. Tearful vigils were held across the globe protesting decades long systematic mistreatment of the LGBTQ community. The attacker claimed in a 911 call shortly before going into the club that he was representing the interests of ISIS. The terror group later claimed responsibility for the atrocity.

The *individual responsible, was the son of an Afghani immigrant who had settled in the US. Discourse has centered around him coming from a Muslim family. The conservative media relished the opportunity to highlight this and so did Donald Trump, in a verbose speech designed to antagonize and incite fear in an attempt to justify his position. In a particularly obnoxious and characteristic tweet, Trump brags:

“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

Debates around gun control were again brought to the fore, and President Barack Obama was put in the all too familiar position of having to demand that we do something about the issue of military style assault weapons being in the hands of your average Joe. This is the 16th time he has had to do so during his tenure.

Mental Health in the US

Before I start, I wish to clarify that in no way is mental health linked to criminality as a causal factor. However, there is a massive issue in America with mental health issues not being diagnosed, disclosed, or treated. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI, approximately  1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. So, to give you a little bit of clarity, in a family of 5, at least one of you will have a mental illness at some point. Also notable is the statistic on homeless people ….

NAMI: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

More disturbingly is how few people seek, or receive treatment for their mental disorder …

NAMI: Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.

That is less than HALF of the target population. A travesty, and one that doesn’t appear to be taken seriously. There is still a serious stigma to disclosing a mental health condition, often with adverse consequences for those who do. It ranks right up there with disclosing your salary.

So, how can Mental Health be linked to the Orlando situation?

According to reports, the individual concerned made aggressive threats in the presence of a coworker and was quizzed by the FBI twice. Was there a mental hygiene assessment made at the time, and if not, why not? Access to guns could have been postponed on mental health grounds.

Whilst this was definitely an act of terror, the full context also needs to be noted from an individual level. What were the contributing factors that led him to carry out that heinous act? Could he have had an undiagnosed mental health condition?

One can only speculate, but if appropriate restrictions had been put in place then maybe this individual could have been contained or even treated appropriately, and thus needless loss of life avoided. As a wider issue, unless the issue of Mental Health is brought out into the open, and the sparse patchwork of services expanded to allow everyone to seek appropriate treatment, then being depressed or hiding an anger management condition will continue to be swept under the rug.

*I do not wish to name him as I don’t wish to give him or his twisted perspective publicity at all. Hence, references to the ‘individual’, or ‘attacker’.