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Givens: Mental health focus is key to gun violence
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Humans are inspired to act by emotion. Often we’ll even emotionally decide an issue and then rationalize “logical” reasons for our decision. Emotions are powerful motivators; they help us feel alive, but they can blind us.

Popular media caters to our desire to be emotionally stimulated and gets us to act for emotional reasons. They aren’t complete manipulators; they are providing the customer with what they want. People seem to be drawn to political commentators who appeal to our fears and encourage us to feel superior to those who disagree with us.

As a society, we should probably not desensitize ourselves to violence or view it as good entertainment. Those movies repeatedly show us “good guys” using guns to stop evil, as if that’s the only way. We should stop watching entertainment news sources that only serve to make us angry at those that disagree with us.

When we do we see our nation as more violent than it really is, our conversations about gun control become reduced to short-sighted political theater, such as when NRA Vice President said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Statements like that ignore that an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. We could try to stop the person from becoming a “bad guy” in the first place. Many of our recent gun-related tragedies were due to persons with severe mental health issues not being institutionalized or receiving sufficient mental health care, while having access to firearms.

Pop media, entertainment-based escapism and political theater are distracting us from both reality and real solutions. Crime has actually been in decline since peaking in the 1980s. This seems to be due to a mix of the creation of effective birth control, increased incarcerations and environmental regulations that reduced lead exposure. Much of our crime today has to do with our society’s inability to deal with mental health and child neglect and abuse problems.

We have little to no focus on quality mental health care in our country. A recent study found that 56 percent of state prisoners had serious mental health issues. Surely a significant number of these could have been rehabilitated with counseling, if they had been reached early enough with quality care. Surely many of them and definitely their victims would have been better off if the person had been institutionalized before committing his or her crimes.

Criminality is linked to drug and alcohol abuse as well as childhood abuse and neglect. If we were truly serious about reducing the prison population and violent crime we would make funding the Department of Family and Children Services a priority. DFCS caseworkers are so overworked their average career span is two years. Georgia has cut the DFCS budget nearly $100 million over the last few years while the Dept of Corrections budget has grown.

Society needs more than DFCS protecting abused and neglected children and making sure families have food and shelter. The children of stable hardworking parents aren’t immune. Proximal abandonment appears to be nearly as damaging to children as neglect. Such occurs when the parent or parents are physically present but always distracted by their cellphone, television or work. In today’s society, where it takes two parents working and distractions are easy to come by, this situation takes effort to avoid.

One in 3 homeless suffer from untreated psychiatric illnesses. If we were truly serious about reducing homelessness, our state would better fund institutionalization and mental health care. Many of our homeless have needs much greater than a place to stay and something to eat.

Churches and nonprofits alone do not appear to be able to tackle these problems alone. All of us and especially those who favor local control should support fully funding DFCS and mental health care. As a state, we can pay a financial cost for prevention or a heavier emotional and financial cost for cure. If we as a state don’t address these issues, we can expect the federal government soon will.

Brandon Givens is a Hall County resident. His columns appear occasionally.

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