Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Medicine for Society

As a naturopathic physician, I work to treat the whole person.  Part of the whole person is the society in which we live.  If we pick up the news from somewhere, it is not hard to discern that the society around us has some health problems.  I don't mean people with health problems, but the collective of people we call "society" and how we treat problems we all face.  Take gun violence for instance.  My oldest daughter attends Seattle Pacific University and had her math class in the building where the recent school shooting took place.  To put it mildly, it rattled her sense of well being substantially, even though she was thankfully not on campus at the exact time of the shooting.  My younger daughter is graduating from high school tonight and last night she sent be a text from bed saying, "I'm worried about graduation tomorrow.  What happens if someone brings a gun and starts shooting everyone?"  When the effects of gun violence begin infiltrating our homes because we continue refusing to take even the simplest rudimentary steps toward protecting our most vulnerable members, there is a disease in the society!

There is a study out of the University of California just released online from the Annals of Epidemiology that looked at gun violence and its association with mental illness (another society health problem.)  It basically shows that gun violence is NOT typically being perpetrated by the mentally ill.  One could argue that it takes mental illness to pull a trigger and randomly kill someone.  However, people who are diagnosed with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression are very rarely involved in the mass shootings that have become a weekly event.  Only about 4% of the mass shooting events involve such a person.  In fact, this study reports that 6 out of 10 gun deaths are suicides.  As Jeffrey W. Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical School says in the study report:  "It shouldn't be harder for a person in a suicidal mental health crisis to get treatment than to get a handgun."

There are 3.5 million people with serious mental illness who are not being treated in this country and more of them are committing suicide than are committing acts of violence against helpless classrooms of youth and children.  Domestic violence (another societal health problem) and people with violent behavior patterns are far more likely profile groups, and as the study in essence says -- these are the ones we need better protection from, and are the ones we need to prevent getting their hands on a gun.

If we're going to prevent fear, maiming, and death in our society, we simply must begin taking steps to curb the ready availability of firearms to people not trustworthy enough to possess them.  In Washington State we have Initiative 594 coming up on our ballots in the not distant future.  It takes a sadly infinitesimally small step to require background checks on all guns sales, including private sales and gun shows.  But, it's a start!  It's time.  Time for ratcheting down the ready availability of guns to those who can't use them morally, for providing mental health treatment over warehousing and ignoring mental illness, and to do something about the all too common social solution of getting angry and resorting to violence to make what irritates disappear.  Use your vote and take a small step for preventive health!!

You can read the abstracts of the above mentioned study here.
University of California - Los Angeles. "Gun violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2014. .

For information about Initiative 594 you can visit this website.  Initiative 594

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