Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Mental Health and Red Flag Laws

Yesterday, I took an Adult Mental Health First Aid course. I signed up for it primarily because of the types of students I encounter in my day job - a lot of them come from a background of trauma and the majority of them are struggling with some sort of mental illness (anxiety, depression, PTSD). I wanted to be able to help them if they were in crisis. The instructor was excellent about reminding us that an 8-hour class does not qualify us to be therapists, but that we could use our training to be the bridge to get someone to professional help. You know, a lot like taking a basic first aid class doesn't make one a physician.

As you know, Colorado is one step closer to turning a proposed bill into a law. I mentioned in our video last week that Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) terrify me, because there's no due process. The onus is on the person from whom the guns were removed to prove that they are not a risk to themselves or others.

So, what does my class yesterday have to do with Red Flag laws? A lot, actually. Repeatedly yesterday we were told that people with mental illness (an illness that impacts their ability to function in a normal way: work, relationships, etc.) are far more likely to be victims of crime, not perpetrators of crime. So passing these bills under the guise of "safety" is crap. The statistics don't support the claim that people with mental illness suddenly "snap" and go on a killing rampage.

One of the things that we were taught to do yesterday was to ask the person, point-blank, if they had any intention of killing themselves or others. Don't sugar-coat it, just ask. Depending on the person's answer, you have options. If they say yes, they plan on killing themselves or others, keep them talking and get them help. Involve the police if necessary. If they say no, ask additional questions, guide them toward professional help.

The problem with the Red Flag laws is that they skip this major step, a step that could go a long way toward getting someone the help they need instead of acting as judge and jury.

I came away from yesterday's class even more against the proposed laws that I was before, but my opinion comes from a place of better education than the people trying to pass the laws. What's scary about that is that it only took one eight-hour class to become better educated about mental illness than the politicians. These laws are nothing more than "feel good" laws so lawmakers can say they're "doing something" to get guns away from dangerous people.