Giffords Shooting Reveals Flaws in U.S. Mental Health Services

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head at a constituent outreach event in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson on Saturday. In all, the gunman shot 18 people, killing 6, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED urges President Obama to take up the issue of mental health care in his upcoming speech on the mass shooting. Several people who knew the alleged shooter came forward with stories of bizarre behavior and run-ins with campus police at his community college. College administrators ordered him to seek treatment before he returned to school, but he does not appear to have done so.

H. Clarke Romans of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona explained to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that mental health services in Arizona have been devastated by budget cuts.

In 2008 the state eliminated support services for all non-Medicaid behavioral health patients and stopped covering most brand-name psychiatric drugs. At least 28,000 Arizonans were affected. Arizonans with mental illnesses can expect even more cuts in the future as the state slashes spending in an attempt to address its budget shortfall.

In AlterNet, Adele Stan argues that, while we don’t yet know the gunman’s motives, the right wing’s intensifying campaign of anti-government hysteria and violent rhetoric may have emboldened an already disturbed person:

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

Reform repeal vote on hold

The House Republicans had scheduled a vote to repeal health care reform this week, but the vote has been postponed in the wake of the Giffords shooting. However, the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its full weight behind the repeal effort on Tuesday, according to Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones. The Chamber is going back on its earlier pledge not to oppose health care reform outright.

CA insurer hikes rates by 59%

Nearly 200,000 policyholders in California are reeling from a 59% rate hike by Blue Shield, Brie Cadman reports for According to the company, the increase was not due to health care reform, but rather to “increased utilization.” State insurance officials are reviewing the rate hike, but they can’t reverse it unless they find that Blue Shield fails to meet the legal medical loss ratio (percentage of premiums spent on medical care).

Reproductive rights in the states

Rachel Gould and Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute recap reproductive rights in the states at RH Reality Check. Last year, 44 states and the District of Columbia considered 950 repro rights-related measures on issues ranging from abortion to sex ed. By year’s end, 89 new laws had been enacted in 32 states and DC. Of these, 39 were abortion laws.

The vast majority of new abortion laws served to further restrict women’s access to abortion. The passage of the Affordable Care Act spurred several states to pass laws restricting insurance coverage for abortions. The District of Columbia’s decision to reinstate public funding was one of the few exceptions to the trend of restrictive new laws.

Autism/vaccine study based on “deliberate fraud”

The author of a discredited study purporting to link autism and vaccines schemed to profit from his tainted research from the very beginning, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

It turns out that the lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was secretly working on a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers when he published a study in The Lancet that appeared to show a link between vaccines and autism. We now know that Wakefield falsified the findings that sparked a global panic over the safety of childhood vaccines.

The journal retracted the paper last year. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine.

Some observers think these revelations will finally put the debate over vaccines and autism to rest. Kristina Chew of Care2 is doubtful:

I am very sure that, even with all the facts, data, and evidence laid before them, those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused or somehow ‘contributed’ to their child becoming autistic will stand by their claims, and by Wakefield. Some of these persons are my friends. They are parents, as am I, of autistic children.

Wakefield’s die hard supporters weren’t swayed by earlier revelations of shoddy research and unethical conduct. It seems unlikely that this new found conflict of interest will change their minds.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

Photo credit: ephotography via flickr
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger


LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

"College administrators urged him to seek treatment before he came back to school"? That statement leapt out of the article at me. If the administrators thought he was mentally sick, then how was he competent to make the decision to get help? How about, next time, a responsible sane adult take the leadership to get help TO him, not the other way around.

Ah, if I could just run the world for a month, I could solve many of our most basic problems. "Martha for dictator" for a month?

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman6 years ago

Thanx for the article

Daylight Chapon
C L Nancy6 years ago

Thank Reagan for this unfortunate turn of events. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Helen D.
Helen D6 years ago

I hope that this horrible tragedy will motivate our politicians to provide more support for mental health services. Then something good will have come from a terrible, tragic situation. As President Obama said. let us utilize this sad happening as a force for unity, and cut down on the divisive blame gaming.

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush6 years ago

We, Americans, are not willing to support our social sciences. We would prefer to incarcerate criminals, after the fact, than help prevent it in the first place.

How many jails are you willing to build and support with your tax dollars?
The U.S. has 4% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population.

Julia W.
Julia W6 years ago


In Canada you have Universal Health Care.
In the US many health insurance programs don't cover mental health needs. When they do, they impose limits: say 30 days in hospital treatment per calendar year. With a seriously mentally ill invidual this can lead to death, suicide, murder.
I really hope this time we ennact mental health care for all, put teeth in the laws about who can buy a gun, not sell as many bullets per magazine as the shooter used. AND be civil with each other, step away from people who are being hateful, not listen.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 6 years ago

I mentioned this in previous posts so apologies for the repeat.
Mental illness is a physical disease due to a chemical brain imbalance. Would you tell a diabetic to stop taking their insulin & snap out of it? No! The same is true of mental illness, they can't. Some can be controlled by drugs which stimulate chemical receptors in the brain to correct the imbalance. Unfortunately, when people feel better they rationalize that they no longer need the medications & revert.
Access is another problem. In the ENTIRE US there are 10 psychosis intervention facilities. In my province alone in Canada there are 30. Why such a difference? Is it underfunding or the attitude it is unimportant? Mental health problems cause tremendous costs to society if untreated (absenteeism from jobs, crime, etc). Many have poor or no insurance & can't afford treatment (exacerbated since they can seldom hold a job due to their untreated illness). Not a problem in Canada.
Stigma is a major problem. If you break a leg you get flowers. The signs are obvious. If you have a mental illness friends flee in droves because they're uncomfortable & don't know what to do. The signs aren't always obvious.
True you can lead a horse to water - you can't make someone seek treatment, If there is a better understanding of such illnesses people may be more eager to intercede. How many people wander the streets as homeless, potential time bombs?
This is an important issue & is largely ignored.