That's part of the debate that's under way in the comment thread of this week's feature—and in the broader community of mental health treatment providers and advocates.
The argument, essentially, is over whether it's right to use past cases of violence by the psychologically unstable—the alleged Capitol Hill hatchet murder, for example—as object lessons in what's likely to happen more frequently if state leaders follow through on huge proposed funding cuts for mental health treatment programs.
"Spreading fear is not an ethical way to advocate for the preservation of mental health services," says a letter of concern released on Dec 12 by local mental health advocates connected to the University of Washington.
That letter was a direct response to a Dec. 6 white paper, issued by the Service Employees International Union, that cast the hatchet murder and other recent killings as "siren warnings of a state mental healthcare safety net in deepening crisis."
This style of lobbying against state budget cuts, the letter of concern says, "sends a misdirected message by framing the need for preserving mental health funding in terms of destructive and sensational portrayals of mental illness and preying on public fear." The letter continues:
We share a deep concern that impending budget cuts will further weaken the mental health safety net. However, we are troubled that SEIU 1199NW chose to use the cases of Isaac Zamora, Maurice Clemmons and other violent offenders as the basis for arguing for preserved funding. This is a scare tactic. And, while the intentions are good and may attract the attention of our legislators, this line of argument promotes frightening stereotypes that are harmful in the long run to people living with mental illnesses.
The facts are that the vast majority of people living with mental illnesses are not violent, and that the reasons for violent acts are complex.
Linnae Riesen, spokesperson for SEIU, responds:
We’re working with legislators and others to help people understand what we see when faced with cuts to funding—especially with more cuts coming. Our white paper, if read completely, aims to show that we do have cost-effective treatment options that really work when they’re available, and the majority of clients are peaceful and co-exist well in communities. But we can’t ignore the reality of budget cuts and the connection to what happens when we eliminate care. Mental health workers see that reality every day whether it makes dramatic headlines or not.
My Dec. 14 feature (and its packaging) also upset local mental health advocates—provoking a "firestorm," according to one of them, at a public forum last week at which state budget cuts were being discussed. There's a lot to think about here. The fuck yous are flying. At present, I most relate to the first sentence of comment 62.