When your country has tens of thousands of people dying every year from preventable causes, what would you do about it?
If you’re the federal government, you throw money at the problem. But you don’t disburse your money equally or to those most in need. Instead, you apparently give the most money to a for-profit industry that has already benefited from government bailouts.
And the poor, homeless, mentally ill folks who have no lobbyists in Washington DC? They get unfairly tied to gun violence. Again.
On January 4, the President proposed investing $500 million to begin to address the problem of mental illness treatment in America. The fact that $4 billion has been cut from mental health treatment funding over the past decade apparently didn’t make it into the discussion… We’re still not anywhere close to the levels of funding we were at years ago.
Even more unfortunately, he tied the money to his announcement on new gun control initiatives. This connection — by no less than the President of the United States — once again reinforced the lie that mental illness is tied to gun violence (hint: it’s not).
The President mentioned that out of 30,000 deaths caused by firearms each year, nearly 20,000 of them are suicides. Ostensibly, if we make treatment for mental illness more readily available, we would cut down on the number of these deaths.
Cars Need Federal Funding Help Too!
Ten days later, the President’s transportation secretary proposed that the automotive industry — a for-profit industry the government loves to bail out — could use some help with their self-driving cars. So they’re getting $4 billion to help them out. (Okay, so it’s over 10 years, making it technically less (per year) than what mental illness treatment will get.)
The reasoning behind this automotive investment into autonomous vehicles is the belief that such an investment can help reduce “as many as 25,000 deaths” per year. There’s actually zero evidence showing that an autonomous vehicle can prevent a single automobile death. But that doesn’t stop them from believing it might be true (some day!).
Nevermind, too, that in 2014, automakers like GM made $2.8 billion in profit, Toyota made $17.9 billion in profit, and Ford made $6.3 billion in profit. Yeah, these companies are really in need of a government cash boost.
It Gets Worse…
But here’s the real kicker. The $500 million for mental illness treatment is apparently a one-time budget request (for 2017, which is still nearly a year off). That means while the auto industry could continue to benefit from government largess in years 2 through 10, poor people with mental illness will once again be out in the streets, without treatment in Year 2. (It will be even more likely if a Republican wins the White House.)
I guess the headline for driverless cars is more sexy than helping people with mental illness.
But in my book, a society that somehow values technology over the emotional wellness of their own citizens is not exactly a place that has its priorities in the right order. As has been attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
Shouldn’t we be investing most of our efforts into getting treatment levels in the U.S. back to where they were pre-recession? And wouldn’t that take at least a $4 billion investment today? Not in cars, but in people.
Thanks Obama! 😉
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
For further information
New York Times: U.S. Proposes Spending $4 Billion on Self-Driving Cars
- Why we can’t have an independent national conversation about mental illness, sans gun violence, is beyond me. [↩]