“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.

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