Many folks in Maine who don’t want to see the bloodshed we witnessed last month in Lewiston unfold again think that the solution is increased access to mental health services, not removing the right to own and carry a semi-automatic rifle.

How will you protect yourselves and your family unless you own arms, this group asks. Instead, they hope to put this responsibility onto the shoulders of the mental health profession.

Indeed, the mental health system is in shambles. It has been years since we’ve invested heavily in a good government-run system.  I entered the system in the early ’70s, when the government heavily invested in Community Mental Health Centers. I went to graduate school on a National Institute of Mental Health scholarship and got out of school with little debt. I worked in mental health clinics in Biddeford/Saco and Bath/Brunswick in the ’70s and early ’80s.

A cyclist passes a sign that reads “Lewiston Strong” on Main Street on Oct. 28. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

They were stunningly good at delivering care. A person could walk into an office in the morning seeking help, and by the afternoon, he or she would have been seen and a care plan drawn up. No one asked about insurance. If Robert Card had been sent for a psychiatric evaluation when I worked in Biddeford/Saco in the early ’70s, I would have been the person to have evaluated him and the person to arrange posthospital care for him if he was admitted for inpatient care.

But since the ’80s and the rise of neoliberalism, we have left care to the marketplace. The cost of that care is left to the smorgasbord of insurance companies. The delivery of that care is piecemeal, and the care itself is almost impossible to attain, even if you have good insurance and a good income.

When I walked into a room to interview a stranger at either of those Community Mental Health centers, there’s one thing I never considered: that the person in that room would be armed. Nor did I consider that the person I was treating might one day slip over the edge of reality and decide to hunt me down, or a member of my family. I never once in all my years of practice felt unsafe.

I ask all of you to walk for a moment in the shoes of that imagined new mental health professional whom you hope will keep your community safe by evaluating or providing treatment to the person suffering from delusions caused by mental illness or drugs. Would you rush into the mental health profession to help protect your community from men with guns? Would you want your daughter or your son to have that job? How would you feel when you opened your office door to a stranger who says he is hearing voices and looks desperate?

I don’t know how we could expect to recruit more people into this field if this is the job we are recruiting them for. Should we train social workers and psychiatrists to use guns so they can protect themselves? Imagine that, a gun in the drawer of your therapist.

What risks should others take to ensure the right to bear that devastating rifle? A community is a place where we are asked to give up certain things to keep others safe. That is called love and care. Isn’t that more important than the freedom to bear an AR-10?

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