Umpqua: The Mental Illness Panacea as it Relates to Gun Violence

In the wake of another school shooting, people are choosing their badnwagons of blame and as usual, the top two contenders are “gun control” and “mental illness.”

To add some spice, this time, there is the added element of the possibility that the shooter targeted Christians that has the small but vocal segment of the Christian population already on the “persecution” bandwagon practically frothing at the mouth.  But as much as they bug me, today I want to (once again) address the idea of mental illness as the “cause” of this scourge of school violence. Initially, I was going to let my last article speak for my feelings about this subject.  After all, it is very emotionally exhausting thinking about this kind of heavy stuff.  I’m sure you know what I mean.  Being inundated with awful news all the time takes its toll on a person.  But in the comments and discussion (hee hee…”discussion”) section of an article this morning, I came across some comments I felt needed engaging. (Sadly, this happens to me way too much and sometimes I should “engage” less with some of the more cretinous on the internet.)  But these comments weren’t too awful.

To begin with, I really recommend the article  to which I refer to…well, anyone.  It is a well thought out and informative view on the buzz word of “mental illness” in regards to gun violence.

One comment on the above article was actually valid and the others were typical ignorant (as in, underinformed) opinions from people who likely have never experienced real mental illness.

One commenter, claiming to be a retired mental health director, takes issue with the semantics of the article’s claim that “the mentally ill are 60 to 120 percent more likely than the average person to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.”

His main point: There is not “The Mentally Ill.”  He states:

We are a diverse demographic, no broad statements can be
made about us.

We earn to the millions, hold every university degree, and
every professional, white, and blue collar job.

I agree. There is no “the” mentally ill, because speaking strictly using the DSM criteria, people with eating disorders would be categorized as “mentally ill” along with a host of other people suffering from afflictions that would have NO causative connection with violence. I myself am “mentally ill,” having suffered with OCD since I was a young child. There seems to be some misconception that because someone shoots up a place or kills someone else, they “MUST be mentally ill.” While I understand the desire to believe there is some answer or some easy way to detect and thus avert crimes like the Oregon school shooting or Newtown, it is a disservice to mentally ill people everywhere.

In a study of crimes committed by people with serious mental disorders, only 7.5 percent were directly related to symptoms of mental illness, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Furthermore the idea that it’s a simple correlation of mental illness ——> gun violence ignores the very big social component to these crimes and the reality that it doesn’t always take much for a “responsible gun owner” to become a criminal. It’s not black and white. The fact that an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed by her abuser if he owns a gun seems to support the idea that you can’t always tell by screening who would or would not become a murderer.  (To stave off the argument that domestic abusers already are criminals, do you think a psych exam or questionnaire could suss that out with enough accuracy to prevent murders or family annihilation?)
As I mentioned to the commenter, I do find the statement in the original article, “gun-owning, angry, paranoid white men,” to be very telling, because these “type” of people seem to be the ones screaming most loudly, to media and anyone else who will listen, for their “gun rights.”  So either facts don’t work in their favor here or the idea that you can predict who will be a mass shooter by a “type” is flawed.  You decide.

Moving on…

Next come the typical comments from ignorant people about medication for mental illness.  They run the gamut from suggesting that people who are mentally ill don’t really “need” medicine to the idea that maybe some kids just need a stern talking to from Daddy or the church pastor.

Well, yes…but that has nothing to do with mental illness.  We’re not talking about under-disciplined little shits who need a whooping or time out.  Although those type of self-indulgent, spoiled, and understimulated kids could conceiveably grow up to be disgruntled or angry adults.

Then there is the more ridiculous idea that drugs typically prescribed for many types of mental illness can actual cause a change in personality sufficient to cause a mass murder spree…

I’ll wait here until you stop laughing…

It’s ridiculous.  For one thing, refer to the above APA findings-  7.5 percent.

Secondly, while I am sure that overmedication has become an issue in our society, and many people think they suffer from any number of physical or mental maladies  (gluten free Prozac for everyone!) there are REAL people out there with these conditions, who are helped by medicines. I myself have suffered with OCD since childhood. Real OCD, not the , “ohh, I like things super clean at my house” self-diagnosed type.

One commenter mentioned that too much in psychiatric treatment with medication is trial and error.  To an extent, I’d give him that.  For instance, after years of trying different meds for efficacy, reduction of side effects, or safety during pregnancy, I have finally come upon one that works for me. When I speak to others with anxiety issues (because OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder) they often tell me they tried the med I am on and didn’t like it or it didn’t work.

Okay, but to address his idea of people as guinea pigs for psychotrophic drugs, let’s put this in perspective.  All people can’t tolerate all anti-biotics or all pain relievers.  People have different chemistries and sensitivities and doctors can’t always say why.  But you’d still likely take meds your family doctor gives you for a physical issue.  Is he using you as a guinea pig? The same idea goes for people needing psychotrophic drugs; different drugs affect people differently.
A commenter questioned the validity of the “theory” of chemical imbalance.  That actually has been proven, but even before there was quantifiable data to support the idea of the chemical imbalance, the theory was essentially proved, ipso facto that SSRIs work for depression and anxiety. SSRI’s are not your gran-mammas little helpers of yesteryear. They aren’t opiods, benzodiazapines, or anti-manics, so they don’t just “blunt” peoples’ moods or make their feelings tolerable; SSRI’s modify the re-uptake of neurotransmitters.

You would not tell a diabetic to go get a good stern talk from their Daddy because it wouldn’t help. Likewise, I never could “pray away” my anxiety and obsessions.  But these common misconceptions add to the stigma of mental illness in today’s society.

To conclude, aside from media coverage turning a killer into a celebrity and giving any disgruntled jerk with a gun a platform, there is no consistent answer for shootings like Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Newtown, the SC church shooter.  The details of the shooters all vary in age, agenda, mental state, social ties.  There is no single diagnosis to be shared between them, so to point a finger at mental illness as the “reason” for these tragedies is, well, a bit irresponsible, in my opinion.  Thanks for bearing with me.

AS always, feel free to comment, but especially given the sensitive nature of this topic, please be courteous.

Peace.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/03/us/how-mass-shooters-got-their-guns.html

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3 responses to “Umpqua: The Mental Illness Panacea as it Relates to Gun Violence

  1. I found your post excellent and ‘enjoyed’ reading it as it runs parallel to my own thoughts. In fact looking for a panacea to the spiraling violence canot be focussed in one directions, that would naive and unproductive but there again the rhetoric we are getting is just as unproductive – hate sounding negative but what is the way forward? I think it is in stages but even trying to identify them is like climbing Mt Everest blindfolded! I will stop wriitng now before this becomes a post not a comment. Again thought provoking post, Thanks.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, there really is no single solution but I do believe there are things we can do to lessen these occurances. But a lot of people aren’t going to like the answers and it involves more than one group doing their part. Suffice it to say. America has become a place where bad behavior is “acceptable,” and the justice system is a gamble, with punishment being neither consistent nor definite. We have become a self-indulgent lot. 😦

  2. Pingback: Gun Control, Gun Rights, and Women (updated) | alienredqueen

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