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

In the wake of another school shooting, people are choosing their bandwagons 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” train, 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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Turning the Other Cheek or Turning A Blind Eye?

Here’s the scenario:

Four girls corner another girl in a public restroom.  They proceed to verbally harass her, threaten her, gang up on her, knocking her to the ground so one can beat on her.  Her face is bloody and bruised and they hold her down so they can cut off her hair.  The two of the girls pull guns out of their bags, threatening to “do worse” to her if she ever talks to the cops again.  One girl says, Why wait?  Let’s kill her now.  

There’s a struggle and one girl drops her gun, and the victim gets the drop on them, grabs the gun, and fires in a panic, killing one of her tormentors and wounding another.

This is the basic plot of the episode of a show I watched today.  And it’s making me…So. Mad.

I hate bullies.  And I was silently hoping that rather than panicking, firing blindly, and crying, that the victim would find her anger and kill those bitches.

Check that.  I know it sounds wrong.  I’m not advocating the type of violence where a perceived or alleged victim of bullying goes into a school and opens fire on everyone.  But watching these girls, these gang bangers, torment this poor girl, who dared to go to the cops because one of the girls’ boyfriends tried to rape her, made me fucking sick.

With all the rampant gun violence in this country, it’s hard to take a stance on gun ownership.  I believe in the right to defend oneself.  I believe it’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.  But denying the fact that the easier access to guns in this country means more guns are used in committing violent crimes is foolish.  Still, I couldn’t help but side with the victim when she turned her one of her tormentors and would be killer’s own gun against them.

But this isn’t really a post about guns; it’s about bullying, which has been around since the beginning of time, I’d wager.  Only “back then” kids used their fists.  And the bullied kids either weathered it or fought back…with their fists.  At one point or another, whether on the playground in grade school, or by their more sophisticated tormenting of their middle and high school peers, I’d bet most of you gentle readers have experienced bullying at one time or another.  I was bullied.  Until I got tired of it.  And then I started to fight back.  It got to the point, for me, where being bullied felt worse than standing up for myself and risking a beating…which I never got.  The fights were always broken up, or the bully backed down or bested.  Or all of the above.

But I guess I was lucky.  The bullies in this show were intent on doing serious harm to the victim.  Dealing with gangs can be considerably different because they have their strange ideas of loyalty and gang politics.  Some people just have no reverence or respect for human life.  It’s an arrogant, sociopathic point of view for which I have the utmost disdain.

But most bullies are just cowards, falling somewhere in between the fabled “low self-esteem” and true criminal.  I don’t really know where I’m going with this post except to say we need to stamp out bullying.  Part of doing that involves not being a bystander.  And that involves a certain amount of personal risk.  Risk of standing out, getting in trouble, being sued…or risk of bodily injury.  In the end, how you handle a bully is a personal decision, but even if you personally are a “turn the other cheek” kind of person, when you see another person getting bullied, don’t be a turn your back kind of person.

Edmund_Burke_quote

Gun Control, Gun Rights, and Women (updated)

Pursuant to the massacre at Newtown and President Obama’s subsequent attempt to institute a stricter gun policy, there has been a tight focus on gun rights and an immense push to make our schools safer for our children.  Needless to say, the result is that the divide between gun rights advocates and gun control advocates is widening.

I have always leaned towards agreeing with the right to own a gun and protect oneself and one’s family.  That said, I believe the words gun control have gotten a bad rap.  Somewhere along the way, the idea of moderation, of common sense, got lost to both sides and the words gun control became synonymous with  “complete firearm ban.”

I do believe control is the issue.  I think people who own firearms need to better secure them against theft and illicit use (even by members of their own families.)  I think gun owners should be held to the strictest responsibility for their firearms.  I do not feel there should be a total ban on firearms.

The aim of this article though is to give some food for thought to both sides by introducing a slightly different perspective on the gun rights issue.  This is merely information…information backed by statistics and scientific inquiry.

I doubt there is anything worse than what happened at Sandy Hook in December, but this information shifts the focus of gun victimization.  To women.

Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.(source)

This is women, killed by men who legally own their firearms.  In short, it suggests a link between the availability of household firearms and female victimization rates.  

Of course, the first argument against this concept is that a man who would beat on his wife should not be allowed to own weapons, and there are laws that prohibit the purchase of a firearm by a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order.  But that is true only of known abusers.  What about the women who have not reported their abuse?

Approximately 20% of the 1.5 million people who experience intimate partner violence annually obtain civil protection
orders. (source)

As I said before, I’m not really trying to push a partisan view of the gun issue, I’m merely hoping to give both gun control advocates and gun rights advocates more information…

And perhaps help them to see we should all be working together towards a solution to end gun violence, rather than fighting against one another.  Maybe if we try to view the problem collectively- and objectively- we can come up with a solution that protects everyone’s rights and safety.

image: HR Giger

image: HR Giger

After yet another mass shooting, by a homegrown (that’s American) Islamic terrorist,  using mostly “legally” purchased firearms…in a club with armed “good guys” (security guards)…

Analysis by the Violence Policy Center has found that at least 29 mass shootings since 2007 were carried out BY perpetrators with concealed carry permits. That’s more than three times the number of concealed permit holders who prevented mass shootings through their swift action. (source)

I am tired of banging my head against a wall arguing with people who let their emotions mold the “facts” to suit them.  To be very clear, it doesn’t matter how you “feel” about it, or how much you support 2nd Amendment rights; it is a documented fact that increased gun ownership in a developed county leads to increased gun deaths in that country.  Not only is it documented, it is common fucking sense

The number of firearms injuries remains high in the United States, compared with most of the rest of the world. Firearm suicide rates are strongly impacted by the rate of gun ownership. (Kaplan and Geling, 1998) There is a positive correlation between firearm fatality rates and number of guns in developed nations.  (Bangalore and Messerli, 2013) (source)

One thing remains certain, despite laws for or against gun control, a lack of care and concern regarding one’s fellow human beings, whether in war or through domestic violence, will continue to promote firearms injuries. (source)