GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For many people, mental health is the core issue when it comes to the gun control debate. A psychologist in Grand Rapids says the debate over school shootings seems to fall along political lines.
“One of the most frustrating things is that this has been overly politicized,” says Dr. Jared Skillings, psychologist at Spectrum Medical Group. “For example, one side tends to always say this is about mental health and the person who did the shooting. The other side says it’s all about guns and gun control. The truth is that these mass shootings or any shooting is that it’s always both. It’s always a person and a gun. And a solution to the problem will never be effective if we have simple solutions. We really need complex reform, in my opinion, of mental health access, as well as look at the intersection of the legal community and the mental health community, to come together and find a way to identify these people who are at risk for these types of problems and not over-stigmatizing people who have mental health problems.”
Dr. Skillings says with all the politicizing of the issue, he’s concerned about those seeking help with their mental health being stigmatized.
“One of the things I think is, broadly speaking, is concerning is that when these school shootings happen is that the very definition of mental illness seems to be the craziest of the crazy. So somebody who walks into a school or hotel and shoots everyone is described as being mentally ill,” says Skillings.
And he says there is no reason for patients to be worried about their gun rights.
“There have been a number of people, in fact one of our social workers here who had a patient who was very concerned that, depending on what the label was for the diagnosis on the chart, that it may prevent her from keeping her guns, or they may be taken away. And that’s just not true,” says Skillings.
Dr. Skillings says currently there are no mental conditions that would prohibit someone from owning a firearm.
“So in terms of which disorders there are for a person to not be allowed to have guns, there really is no language in Michigan law. And I’m not an expert in other states, but I don’t think that’s a law in any state,” says Skillings.
He adds that sometimes the minds of those shooters are simply beyond the help of psychology.
“By going to your primary care doctor or mental health practitioner, if you have a diagnosis of something like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, or even severe depression, that is not going to be something that your counselor is going to go and call the cops and say, ‘Bob now has this diagnosis and we now need to take his guns.’ That’s not how this works,” says Skillings.
Dr. Skillings is hopeful that both sides of this issue can come together and find the complex solution that it needs.