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Trumpcare is devastating for people living with mental illness — and great for the NRA

Weakening mental health care increases the risk of suicide. But when has the NRA ever cared about that?

Whenever our country is shaken by a mass shooting, cowardly politicians do two things without fail. First, they send out canned “thoughts and prayers.” And then, they talk about fixing a “broken mental health care system” without actually doing anything about it.

This bait-and-switch tactic allows politicians to avoid discussion of America’s lax gun laws or the role such laws play in our gun violence epidemic. It’s convenient. Republicans can advocate improved mental health care as a solution to gun violence rather than advancing commonsense gun violence prevention policies that would actually reduce such violence. The GOP’s fixation on mental health care is disingenuous, stigmatizing, and not based on evidence.

We at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have written extensively about the link — or lack thereof — between mental illness and violence. Research shows that mental illness alone plays a relatively minor role in interpersonal violence. Suggesting otherwise — as Republicans consistently do — further stigmatizes those who live with mental illness, the vast majority of whom will never be violent.

While mental illness is not a significant risk factor for violence against others, mental illness does increase the risk of suicide. About 90 percent of those who die from suicide experienced symptoms of mental illness prior to their death, and these individuals are often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated. Speaker Ryan’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), which is expected to come up for a vote today, fails those at risk of suicide by stripping mental health care from individuals who depend on it.

In drafting the AHCA, House Republicans had the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to improved mental health care. They had the opportunity to prioritize individuals living with behavioral health problems. They had the opportunity to save lives.

But, predictably, they didn’t take it.

Instead, the GOP decided to strip mental health care and substance abuse treatment from individuals in need. And in doing so, they confirmed what many of us already knew: Republicans only feign concern about mental illness when they are trying to deflect attention from efforts to pass desperately needed gun violence prevention legislation.

When our nation’s pathetically weak gun laws aren’t under scrutiny, the mental health care system is dispensable. The lives of those with mental illness are disposable. Indeed, by yanking care from those in need, Republicans have guaranteed that people with behavioral health problems will die on their watch. From overdoses. From the physical effects of substance abuse and mental illness. And from suicide — specifically firearm suicide.

Research shows that both mental illness and substance abuse are significant risk factors for suicide, and they often occur together. Suicides can be prevented with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment; accurate diagnoses and customized care can help individuals survive temporary suicidal crises. But by making it more difficult to access proper treatment and services, the GOP is actively putting these individuals in greater danger.

Republicans’ callous approach to health care puts individuals in crisis at risk of suicide by ensuring that treatment is hard to access while, at the same time, making the most lethal method of suicide readily available. Guns are the most commonly used method of completed suicide, and they are more fatal than any other method. Despite a well-documented link between availability of guns and suicide, Republicans and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have rejected commonsense suicide prevention measures to remove guns from individuals in suicidal crisis. Apparently, a gun used in a suicide is still a net gain for the gun lobby. The NRA has no desire to prevent suicides if doing so means removing firearms from individuals in danger. And the GOP has no desire to stand up to the NRA.

The NRA’s stake in limiting mental health treatment through the AHCA is subtle but undeniable. NRA leaders love to perpetuate stigma by blaming mental illness for firearm homicides despite data showing mental illness is not a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence. They benefit from painting people with mental illness as violent “monsters.” They tell their followers to take up arms against the “deranged.” They vilify and use these individuals to distract us from the real cause of gun violence: lax gun laws.

While improved mental health care would undoubtedly result in fewer firearm suicides, research shows that if mental health care were to improve, our gun homicide epidemic would likely remain constant. And then, the NRA would no longer have their go-to scapegoat. By weakening mental health care, the NRA and their Republican puppets can continue to lament the broken mental health care system when gun violence occurs. They are hoping we will forget they chose to weaken it.

Improving access to mental health care and limiting access to firearms can prevent suicides. The GOP is doing neither. Together, Republicans’ weakening of behavioral health care coverage through the AHCA and their unconscionable loyalty to the gun lobby put millions of Americans at risk. Today, Republicans will be asked to choose between protecting Americans living with mental illness and appeasing the NRA. It seems they have made their choice.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) is a 501(c)(4) organization founded in 1974. We are the nation’s oldest gun violence prevention organization.

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