“Mental Illness” and its Role in this Tragedy

I want to talk about this, but there’s just so much ground to cover, so many feelings and opinions about the subject.  I can’t get into all of it.  It’s just not in me emotionally.

Since the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, people all over Facebook (and I’m sure every other social media) are having very strong opinions about what caused this and about why we in America have more school shootings than anywhere else in the world (combined probably.)  The two main things I’ve seen are “Gun Control” and “the Mental Health Care System.” I am assuming there will be some “the answer is to get Bibles back in the schools” and “better education” coming along shortly.

The term mentally ill is already being thrown around when we know nothing for sure right now.  Probably because to most of us “sane” people, we can not conceive of a normal, well-adjusted person shooting at babies.  Bear with me, because I am so upset I am shaking as I type.  I understand the urge to blame someone, or something, especially since the killer, like so many of these cowardly wastes of skin, killed himself after he did these horrendous things.  It makes me so mad that he’ll never have to feel the GUILT he should feel, let alone pay for what he did.  I don’t believe in Hell. I wish I did, because then maybe I’d feel he’s getting what he deserves there now.

But I want to take a moment to explore what it means to be “mentally ill,” and how it may or may not apply to this situation.

Wikipedia describes mental illness as A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological pattern or anomaly, potentially reflected in behavior, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development of a person’s culture. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives.

*The above definition may also be problematic because social factors can create sociopaths, people with antisocial personality disorder, which very much is in the DSM as a mental illness.  Sociopathy is highly correlated with lack of empathy, “damaged” moral compass, and violent crimes that can result from such a disorder.  Also, sociopathic personalities generally feel little distress about their lack of normal morals and emotions.

So, basically, sociological factors such as upbringing and economic factors can in fact combine with psychological issues to create a killer.  Essentially it is an play between nature versus nurture.  (edit 6/2015)

However, mental illness can encompass such things as anorexia, OCD, depression, phobias, stress disorders, and much more.  The point is, it can be said that half of America is mentally ill, under this criteria.  Mentally “ill” does not automatically mean violence, although, using criteria which measures behavior against society’s mores and parameters would naturally mean anyone who committed violence would automatically be considered “mentally ill.”  However, not all people who commit violent crimes have a mental illness diagnosable in the DSM.  At this early stage, I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to say that the mental health care system is at fault for this.  I really can’t blame gun control or lack thereof either.  *In regards to gun control, the kind of gun control we really need is stricter fines and punishments for people like the mother (who died as a result of her irresponsibility anyhow), who knew her son was mentally unsound, yet did nothing to restrict his access to her guns.  Don’t misunderstand me.  While I do not advocate disarming citizens with a blanket ban on guns, I do believe there should be strict and definite sanctions for any gun owners who are caught being irresponsible in any way with their weapons (ie: leaving a loaded weapon in an unlocked car springs to mind, and yes, it happens quite a bit.)

I can’t help but think there is a social component to this phenomenon of school shooting.  I look at it in the same light as the increased suicides over bullying and the increase in family annihilators.  Some people are seeing this stuff reported and are getting it into their heads that this is an effective and acceptable way to “make a statement.”

There have always been bullies.  In schools and even in adult life. But since the explosion of social media, bullied kids can’t even get respite from their tormentors at home.  The bullies continue to harrass and hound their victims on social networking sites.  Though there were school shootings before Columbine, Klebold and Harris’s names became known the world over almost overnight.  Initially it was speculated that one or both of them had been bullied in school, and the killings were some form of retribution.* (New evidence seems to suggest they were not, in fact, bullied.  Rather, they were extremely angry and to some degree, psychopathic.  Psychopathy is in the DSM, but as a personality disorder.)  Now many bully victims are increasingly feeling that their only way out is suicide.  I can’t help but feel that like copycat suicides,  public response, media coverage, and perception have a lot to do with the proliferation of mass shootings.  But what is the answer to this problem?  Stop reporting on news and crimes?  It’s not possible, and shouldn’t be necessary.

But I don’t believe there is any one answer.  That would be too simple.  It’s not JUST a gun control issue, not just a mental health issue, not just a media reporting issue.  Our country, our world, is sick.  And I wish I knew what the answer was.

But what I will say is that, as a sufferer of an anxiety disorder, I would be classified as “mentally ill.”  Even were I not medicated, I can’t even imagine ever…EVER…going into a school and harming innocent babies!  I don’t understand why people like this feel the need to make innocents suffer for their misery.  Part of the problem I really believe goes back to personal responsibility.  I think America has become a society that fosters feelings of entitlement and a refusal to accept responsibility.  

Anyway, I’ve already wrote more than I meant to.  As a mother now, I feel a gut wrenching empathy for the parents of those poor children killed or wounded.  But I also feel a sense of desperation because I don’t know the answer.  I wish I did.  I just know that spreading the blame is not the answer, and mental illness is stigmatized enough without assuming that it’s the reason for this tragedy.  Arguably, a person who would do this is “not right” in the head, but it doesn’t mean the system failed him.  I’m betting he never gave the system a fair go in the first place.  In terms of mental issues, one usually has to acknowledge the need help, and want help to get help.

As an adjunct, please feel free to share your thoughts, but as this is a sensitive topic, I want to re-emphasize my policy on comment etiquette.  No flaming, keep it civil– or your comment will never make it past moderation.  I realize I may be expressing views that are contrary to your own.  I offer them up in the spirit of expressing my feelings and maybe trying the only way I know how to make sense of this.  I respect your right to disagree.  Please don’t take my words personally, and don’t make it personal.

17 responses to ““Mental Illness” and its Role in this Tragedy

  1. I completely understand your trepidation on the mental health issue. Personally, I think this dude probably had some whacked out brain chemicals going on. But it’s not fair of me to make that assumption. Equally unfair is painting every person who suffers from a mental illness as violent or a ticking time bomb or whatever. Like you said, even at your unmedicated worst, you’d never imagine doing something like this. I’m pretty sure that goes for the whole lot of us. As if there weren’t enough of a stigma surrounding it already. What a giant effing mess.

  2. Like you said, it’s our world that is sick. I remember that it has also happened in other countries? But could it be possible that it’s easier to do because guns are legal? — correct me if I’m wrong! Maybe if they couldn’t get it so easy, it wouldn’t have happened? Or maybe it would with knifes/daggers sharp things instead?

    Other than that it’s a horrible situation, a horrible thing that I can’t explain in words. I feel sorry for the parents, for the people who had to experience the fear. I just wonder what was going through his mind when he entered the school…

    • Well, gun laws vary from state to state. In some states it’s damn near impossible to get a carry permit. But like I said, these guys don’t abide by the laws anyhow. I’m guessing most of his guns were not registered to him… In other words, he didn’t get them legally anyway, so gun control laws wouldn’t help in this instance. 😦

  3. I feel so removed from this sort of ‘incident’ these days. Maybe that makes me a bit ill, too. It just seems to happen so damn often. Sad and sickening. I agree there is a massive problem and saying it is guns or upbringing just doesn’t come close to a single blameworthy reason to kill strangers – whether children or adults.

    I’ve heard that the shooter chose this school as his own mother was a teacher there and he killed her as soon as possible. My only explanation for killing her students also is that he may have believed that his hated mother had corrupted her students as well and he was doing them, or the world, a mercy. Yes of course it’s a horrible idea, and even from the premise that he was mentally ill it makes no sense.

    I just don’t know. And unless he left a written reason, no one ever will.

  4. Good Post

    When shit like this happens, everyone always seems to know the answers as to why it happened. I can’t fucking stand emotional outbursts about getting rid of guns. It’s ignorant. Thank you for saying it — in your own words.

    This is exactly my thought: “criminals will always find a way to get a gun.”

    Start messing with that right, and our lives could change very drastically after a precedent like that is set.

    In my opinion, the media plays a big role in all of it. But, the media wouldn’t be as much a factor if people weren’t glued to their TV’s absorbing everything that it dishes out. It’s a skewed view of the world. The bad stuff makes more money, right? Who benefits from hearing about bad news? The news, that’s who. We’re all aware of a tragic event that happened today. Are we better off knowing about it or not knowing about it? It’s a philosophical question, but it’s important.

    This is a crazy thought, but “Social Responsibility” comes to mind. I think it would be great if the news corps. returned profits made off of tragedies to families of victims that they exploit, or to some other philanthropic effort. It’s crazy, I know. It’ll never happen. It should. Stories like this are money-makers to them — that’s all. The stone-faced zombies that report it, in my mind, (I’m livid now) could give a fuck about the people involved. It’s a job. And a damn good one, too.

    If I had to come up with a reason as to why half of the nation is being labeled “mentally ill”, or for why shit like this happens, I’d say it all stems from negativity. We inundate ourselves with it. Everyday. The news is nothing but tragedy, fiscal cliffs, economic collapses, stock market crashes, low unemployment, infectious disease outbreaks, rise of diabetes in kids, cancer this and that, employment ratings, housing market bubbles, debt crisis, the *Great Recession*, you’re not skinny enough —
    –all of it, every single day. Day in and day out.

    We absorb all of this shit and put it all back out into the world. We have to don’t we? It’s news? It must be important…

    Our relationships, our body image, our money, our houses, our cars, how we vacation, what kind of clothes we wear, our jobs, our “mental stability” — none of it makes us happy! Nothing is ever good enough!! Why don’t people realize this stuff? Not just realize it, but start recognizing the negativity and replacing it with something positive for a change?

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts…

    • As you may have read, my view on this is that is less “mental illness” and more societal conditioning. Our apathy as a society and our bloodlust for sensational news has more to do with what happened than mental illness, although I’m sure that was a component. I agree Americans are over-medicated, but some of us actually need our meds to live a happy life. It’s not like, “I’m sad so I’ll pop some prozac.” I think that fake Morgan Freeman quote going around Facebook summed it up quite nicely: the media is irresponsible and sensationalist and the people that are unbalanced, that in generations past may have hurt few people, or only themselves, are now getting twisted ideas about how they can make their sad lives “mean something–” and that is by hurting as many others as possible. And anyone who thinks we aren’t all a part of it need only look at all the horribly callous and racist Twitter posts when our president interrupted their precious football game the other day to speak about the shooting. It makes me sad to be a human sometimes. 😦
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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