As mental health professionals we reject the proposed legislation to commit more Tennesseans to mental health institutions as a response to gun violence.
First, as has been shown in the data, most recently by the Columbia School of Psychiatry Columbia Mass Murder Database (CMMD), a very small number of anywhere from 5%-8% of individuals responsible for mass shootings actually have any kind of psychosis or serious mental health disorder that may have led them to conduct the shooting.
We are aware of the FBI number that puts this number much higher, but that number includes depression, anxiety, and other common mental health diagnoses that many, including 43% of Tennesseans, struggle with and that are not causes of extremely violent acts like mass shootings.
In our collective experience as psychiatrists, therapists, researchers, nurses and psychologists, we know that admission to an inpatient psychiatric facility should only be considered where there are no other options to maintain safety, and risk is truly imminent because hospitalization itself could cause unintentional harm. In the vast majority of cases, mental health concerns are best managed using outpatient resources, like consistent psychotherapy, medication, and community or faith-based resources.
Fear of unnecessary and unwarranted psychiatric hospitalization could lead people to further try to conceal any plans of harm, and would not promote honest disclosure of suicide risk or thoughts of harm to others for fear of hospitalization.
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Lawmakers need to heed the public’s pleas
Finally, even if admission to an inpatient psychiatric facility is warranted due to true imminent risk of harm to self or others, stays typically are no longer than 14 days. As professionals, we recommend restricting access to lethal means, including guns, for any period of time when risk for harm to self or others is known to be high, including in the weeks and months after a psychiatric hospitalization. Again demonstrating that mental health commitments will not be the solution to gun violence, removing guns from individuals will be.
In a state where we rank 45th in access to mental health care, where we had over 1,000 lives lost to suicide last year, improving access to quality mental health services would benefit our whole state. The proposal distracts from addressing the lethality of these weapons and fails to address the concerns of our state and responsible gun owners themselves, as was demonstrated in the thousands of submissions to Gov. Bill Lee over the summer. These submissions asked for training, permits, background checks, and significant restrictions to the ownership of semi-automatic sporting rifles.
Alongside 84% of the 19,000 comments submitted to Gov. Bill Lee, we call upon our legislators to focus on the issue at hand, death and injury by guns in our state.
Alex Bettis, PhD
Susanna Quasem, MD
Caitlin Coile, LPC-MHSP
Molly Butler, PMHNP
Lauren Beem, LMSW
Katherine Spencer, PsyD,HSP
Michelle Reising, PhD
Katherine Hofstetter, LMFT
Kimberly Lux, LCSW
Jenn Stewart, PhD
Sarah Iaccarino, LMFT
Kelly Watson, PhD
Lily Catalano, LMSW
Kelsey Riddle, LMFT
Laura Grafham Knapp, LPC-MHSP
Theresa Padilla RN
Rise and Shine TN