UVALDE, Texas – Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school killer faced a “mental health challenge” and that the state had to “do a better job with mental health” – yet in April he cut $ 211 million from the department that oversees mental health health programs.
Additionally, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for general access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health America Report.
“We as a state, as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said during a press conference at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday.
His remarks came just the day after an outraged Connecticut senator called anti gun control lawmakers seeking to blame mental illness for the latest school shooting and others earlier.
In dismissing suggestions that stricter gun control laws could have prevented the tragedy, Abbott admitted that the 18-year-old suspect killed had no mental health problems or a criminal record, but said, “Anyone who shoots someone else has a problem. of mental health “.
His claims drew reproaches from public health experts and scholars studying mass murderers, as well as from his rival Democratic governor Beto O’Rourke, who was expelled from the press conference after storming the stage and blaming the pro-rifle republican to “do nothing” to stop gun violence.
“There is no evidence that the killer is mentally ill, just angry and hateful,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University School of Medicine. “While it is understandable that most people fail to understand the slaughter of young children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”
David Riedman, founder of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, said, “On the whole, mass shooters are rational. They have a plan. It’s something that develops over the course of months or years and there is. it’s a clear path to violence. “
The much bigger problem, they said, is Texas and many other states are inundated with guns.
“Texas has more guns per capita than any other state,” the Post said. “After the tragic 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, the governor signed several bills to curb mass shootings; Unfortunately, most of those bills involved arming the public to stop mass shooters. “
The post pointed out that police officers trained in active shootings were injured on Tuesday. She and others said that although mental illness was the main cause of the primary school shooting, local officials have historically curtailed programs to help people with psychological problems.
Last year, The Houston Chronicle released a three-part series showing Texas leaders had failed to adequately finance or manage the eroding state mental health system.
Additionally, conservative parenting groups in Texas and elsewhere have targeted mental health initiatives in schools, including programs designed to help students manage their emotions. Critics argue that programs are a “Trojan horse” for critical race theory, a separate and seldom taught academic concept that examines how systemic racism is ingrained in society.
In Uvalde County, a predominantly rural area where one-fifth of the 24,456 mostly Latino residents live in poverty, the budget budget for “health and well-being” has varied in recent years from $ 2.8 million to $ 3.8 million. , according to the records.
“I hesitate to comment on how much a county should spend because mental illness cannot rightly be blamed as the main driver of mass shootings,” said Greg Hansch, who heads the Texan branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of mass shootings than perpetrators of mass shootings. Less than 10 percent of the shootings involved a suspect who had mental health problems. “
Dr Sadiya Khan, assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that while mental health programs need more funding, “it will not eliminate the need for gun control.”
“All it takes is one person to get a gun to ruin hundreds of lives,” he said. “Our children’s lives depend on gun control.”
Tamar Mendelson, a professor in the mental health department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that while it is difficult to give a dollar figure on what it will take to alleviate the nation’s mental health crisis, it is clear that the United States ” they don’t invest enough in mental health ”.
“We also don’t take a preventative approach,” Mendelson said. “We don’t do it enough in school facilities, where we can provide the necessary care for young people. And we lack “culturally competent” care, such as Spanish-speaking therapists “.
On Tuesday, upon learning of the Texas massacre, Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Pleaded with his fellow Republicans to drop the old excuses.
“Spare me the bullshit about mental illness,” Murphy said. “We have no more mental illness than any other country in the world. You can’t explain it through a prism of mental illness. “
Hixenbaugh reported from Uvalde and Siemaszko from New York.