There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to talking about mental illness and involuntary treatment. This week, a panel, under the direction of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, began the discussion around the possibility of implementing Laura’s Law, which can lead to involuntary treatment of the severely mentally ill. Laura’s Law came to be after the murder of Laura Wilcox, 19, who was killed by a mentally ill man in Nevada County, California, in 2002; six years later, that county began offering a program for forced treatment.
With the Isla Vista slayings in May that left seven dead, including murderer Elliott Rodger, it’s easy to err on the side of caution. His antisocial behavior and ludicrous rants about rejection by women suggest he had a mental illness, that he had a psychotic break in his delusions as a possibly diagnosable narcissist. But Rodger isn’t the first person to cause Americans anxiety. He is among numerous others over the last several years to hit the point of no return, causing injury or death to innocent people and themselves. It’s a rational idea to want something in place in order to intervene before injury or death occurs. But there is a lot to consider when implementing such a law as Laura’s Law, lest we find ourselves with something akin to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: locked up and no way out.
We appreciate the fact that the supervisors pulled together a diverse group of 15 people to make up the panel, including mental health clients and their family members. It will give a more rounded perspective of what it is like living with a mental illness and the stigma attached to it, the fear that such people may pose a threat to human safety. According to a report in Psychiatry in 2008, “Mental illness may increase the likelihood of committing violence in some individuals, but only a small part of the violence in society can be ascribed to mental health patients.” In reality, our fears that mentally ill people are violent haven’t been substantiated. But going a step further, according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, published May 2013, more than half of the U.S. population will have a mental disorder, from anxiety to depression to schizophrenia and so on. (According to a 2005 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, only 6 percent of the population will have a severe mental illness.)
Further, California Assembly Bill 1014, co-authored by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, would allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms for up to one year based on information from immediate family, law enforcement or licensed mental health professionals dealing with those who pose a threat. Such a law, if passed, would seemingly cause the rights of the mentally ill to deteriorate. We just hope this law doesn’t do more harm than good.
Perhaps, the solution lies in a bill being introduced in the House of Representatives, HR 3717. This particular bill tackles many issues, reforming laws that are already on the books while providing revenue streams to fund programs for mental health and much more.
Going back to the local effort in considering the possibility of implementing Laura’s Law locally, we will leave it to the experts and to those who know firsthand to lead us down the right path. We stand by intervention and treatment but are cautious when it comes taking away the rights for anyone to be able to speak and act for themselves. In the end, we must toss aside our irrational fears about the mentally ill and a possible propensity to be violent in order to see the situation clearly and act in the best interests of not only our communities but also those who suffer from mental illness.