Every so often in America, an angry white man shoots a bunch of other white people, and we engage in a brief national conversation about our mental health care system. As far as I can tell, the Newtown shootings have provoked the longest national conversation about mental health care in recent memory, and it’s mostly died down now, a couple of months after the attack. It’s possible that Adam Lanza, whose violence was directed primarily toward women and children, was mentally ill. It’s possible that he was sane, but angry. Regardless, I am appalled that the only time we seem to discuss mental illness is when we’d like to rationalize a horrendous crime.
This is an important conversation that we, as a nation, are not having. Around 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Most of these people are no danger to anyone but themselves. Most of us are no danger to anyone but ourselves.