America’s Mental Health Crisis Is a Security Issue

A recent mass shooting by a mentally unstable man in New York City has underlined the dire need for improved mental healthcare in the United States.

Frank James, a 62-year-old man from Milwaukee, WI, arrived at a subway station in Brooklyn, gun in hand. He allegedly detonated two smoke bombs and fired several shots into the crowd. He hit 10 people, and 19 others were injured in the chaos that ensued. James fled the scene and was arrested 30 hours later after he called in a tip against himself.

This was a man who had a considerable criminal record and had a history of mental health emergencies dating back to the 70’s. He also had a now terminated YouTube channel where he posted lengthy hate-filled rants about homeless people, government workers, and various racial groups. His extensive and erratic hospital visits and erratic work history have led some to believe that mental health played a huge factor in the shooting.

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. The perpetrators of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2016 and the Parkland shooting in 2018 both were diagnosed with crippling mental health issues. These mass shootings were particularly devastating, especially considering they took place in schools and involved youths. It is worrying to think that mental health issues at least influenced these people to commit such horrible tragedies.

Many might wonder if early intervention would have prevented these tragedies. However, in the case of Frank James, he had already received treatment at various facilities, including two in New York City. In fact, these frequent visits to mental health programs were one of the reasons James was radicalized, as he claimed himself to be “a victim of  the mental health program of New York City” in a video posted on his YouTube channel. While James was hospitalized in the 1970’s, the issue of shoddy mental healthcare is still increasingly prevalent not just in New York City, but in facilities across the country.

As governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo instituted his Transformation Plan, which sought to slash funding for inpatient mental health services to focus more on outpatient services. This resulted in more mentally ill people ending up homeless on the streets, more mentally ill inmates in prisons, and increased spending on mental health shelters for the homeless, which came to have more beds than dedicated mental health facilities. This has since been somewhat reversed earlier this year by current New York governor Kathy Hochul. Since the 1950’s, it has been typical for states to deinstitutionalize, or divert funding from inpatient to outpatient facilities. This has had detrimental results, depriving millions of mentally ill people of much needed mental healthcare.

According to Mental Health America, 19.86% of American adults have experienced a mental illness in 2019. That same year, 24.7% of mentally ill adults were reported to have not received sufficient treatment for their mental illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began the following year, has undoubtedly exacerbated these figures as stressors such as lockdowns, sociopolitical instability, and financial troubles have continuously struck the nation all at once. Two years after COVID lockdowns first began, we are beginning to see a disturbing trend of mentally ill people, who often do not receive sufficient mental healthcare,

Unfortunately, the Brooklyn shooting is a sign that things will continue to get worse in terms of national security. These shootings will cause survivors to suffer from trauma and mental health issues that follow. Because they are unlikely to get proper treatment, they will become mentally unstable themselves and create a nasty feedback loop that perpetuates mental illness and keeps Americans in a perpetual state of instability and danger.

There is no easy fix for this, as many of these people affected by mental health issues or trauma resulting from tragedies like the Brooklyn shooting will not be able to afford mental health counseling or treatment. Mental health is in such a miserable state in this county that fixing it would cost state governments billions in funding. However, this will be necessary to prevent an even larger mental health crisis from tearing the country apart.

Frank James was severely troubled with mental health issues. He may have had horrific motivations for his attack rooted in pure hatred, but he was also the victim of a system that failed him in addition to millions of other mentally ill people in the United States. If we want to prevent further tragedies, we need to fund mental healthcare services. Increased access to mental healthcare will mean the difference between security and destruction.

Matthew Kovacev
Matthew Kovacev
Student at George Mason University majoring in Public Administration with a concentration in Public Policy.