Conference Coverage

Gun policy reform related to mental illness ‘a complex puzzle’



– On April 16, 2007, a 23-year-old man shot 32 people to death and injured 23 others during a massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, before taking his own life. On the same day, 231 other gun casualties occurred in other areas of the United States, 83 of them fatal and 148 nonfatal, according to Jeffrey W. Swanson, PhD.

“These were domestic violence incidents, suicides, some unintentional injuries, and a few law enforcement actions,” he said at an annual psychopharmacology update held by the Nevada Psychiatric Association. “This is the daily drip, drip, drip of gun violence in our country.”

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 9.8 million adults in the United States have a serious mental illness, 2.5 million have a co-occurring substance use disorder, 1.9 million have no insurance, 3.1 million go without treatment for their mental illness, 100,000 are homeless, and about 1 million find themselves in jail or in prison. “We probably have more people with a serious mental illness in one of our big-city jails every day than we ever had in the largest asylum in the middle of the 20th century,” said Dr. Swanson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, Durham, N.C. “I think that’s scandalous. It probably costs our society $318 billion per year. On the other hand, we have gun-related violence that claims 36,000 lives each year. One economist estimates that costs our society $174 billion per year. Those are two different public health problems that come together on their edges.”


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