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The toughest state “mental health law” in the USA couldn’t prevent a tragedy

In Arizona, of all things, “disability” has been legislated a committable offense, but still legislating “disability” a committable offense was not enough to prevent the tragedy that occurred in Tucson. An article in Psychiatric News, Tucson Tragedy Reignites Long Standing Controversies, examines the law and some the what-if’s surrounding the case.

Arizona law is unusual in that it allows a fourth criterion to the three typically used for involuntary civil commitment in most states. The statute lists being a danger to self or to others or being “gravely disabled” (unable to care for oneself) as grounds for commitment. The state also allows commitment for the “persistently or acutely disabled,” a term that covers those with a severe mental disorder along with impaired judgment and capacity to understand or comply with treatment options.

I imagine any leap to judgment by a group of experts could have anyone among the majority of people in that state locked up for being “acutely disabled” if they wanted to do so. A unacknowledged problem here is that locking up people for the relatively victimless crime of being “unable to care for oneself” requires a value judgment, and this is at a far remove from locking people up because of their violent behavior, or any real threat that might be posed to the safety of the community at large.

I hope someday somebody challenges this law, and that such a challenge can make it all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States because, frankly, I think a law of this sort is clearly unconstitutional.

“Mental illness” is not the problem, violence is the problem. People labeled “mentally ill” are less likely to be the perpetuaters of violent crime than people in general. As an article in Palladium-Item, Mentally ill not usually violent, explains:

Those diagnosed with mental illnesses are no more violent than the general public. Data from Duke University has shown that just 7 percent of people with schizophrenia commit a violent act, including shoving or pushing, annually, while 10 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 24 commit such acts each year. Similarly, studies have shown that a person is three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than a stranger with schizophrenia.

Further, this article goes onto say:

If Loughner is found to have a mental illness, he will be an exception in this population and not the rule. In fact, research shows that those with mental illnesses are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violent acts than the instigators.

Obviously enacting laws making it easier to lock up people for alleged “mental illnesses” because of fears of violence are misdirected. Violent behavior and threats of violence should be dealt with harshly, but attributing such violence to any “mental illness” is far fetched.