In January 2011, Jared Loughner killed six and injured 13, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. In July 2012, James Holmes killed twelve and injured 70 in Aurora, Colo. And in December 2012, Adam Lanza killed 27 in Newtown, Conn. All of these tragedies were carried out by perpetrators who had an untreated severe mental illness, and President Obama and the nation in general now seem to realize that America has a major problem with untreated severe mental illness. Following Newtown, Obama promised to make “access to mental health care as easy as access to guns.”
Obama’s first step was to set up a task force under Vice President Biden to make recommendations. Biden, in turn, asked the lead government agency on mental-health services for direction. That agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a $3.1 billion component of the Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA’s official mission is to reduce “the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.” The only problem is that SAMHSA knows nothing about severe mental illness and, indeed, is not even certain that it believes such illnesses exist.