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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Shut up…You don’t have OCD

I have written about OCD before…quite a bit, since I have lived with it in varying degrees since I was a child.  I’m not talking cutesy perfectionist shit.  Real obsessive compulsive disorder requiring real treatment.

I came across this article on Facebook today, and I only hope it gets the reads it deserves.  As I have mentioned before, and what is concisely stated in the article by an actual doctor  (if my word isn’t enough):  OCD differs from idiosyncratic quirks and/or having an obsessive personality in that it causes actual distress to the sufferer and oftentimes interferes with their ability to function on a day to day basis in a normal fashion. (One example-which is not to say all people with OCD would manifest in this way: have you ever been late to work because you wanted to be sure the stove was off even though you stood there looking at the stove knob clearly in the off position?  Your brain still sends you signals of doubt and stress so much so that you can’t even believe your eyes.)

“‘Obsessive’ is a personality trait. It doesn’t get in the way of your functioning, it’s something you prefer. What people are meaning to say is, ‘I am obsessive rather than OCD,’ ” says Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation. “You’re now mixing a distressing psychological disorder with a personality preference, and when you mix them, you lose the severity of the disorder.”

With OCD, there are obsessions (unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that repeat in a person’s mind) and compulsions (acts that a person repeats in order to “get rid” of these obsessions). These compulsions are often done in a desperate attempt to protect oneself from the wave of anxiety the obsessions bring, not because the person actually wants engage in the compulsion. (source)

It’s not even about being oversensitive (although it is insensitive to downplay someone else’s suffering.)  It’s also about awareness.  As stated, there are varying degrees of this illness, and some people can live with it untreated (although they likely have their own personal rituals or adjustments to their lives that allow them to do so, some people may benefit from behavioral modification techniques (supervised by a professional,) and some, like myself, may never feel comfortable enough to be off medication.   Some people suffer in silence for years, ashamed, afraid…generally miserable captives of their own runaway anxiety and relate compulsions designed to alleviate said anxiety.  Howard Hughes, American aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer and director (1) (2), was notorious for his bizarre behavior which was eventually attributed to OCD.

People with OCD, we’re not crazy (although we certainly feel like we are going crazy sometimes.)  There is nothing “wrong” with us, at least nothing that should be stigmatized or judged.  I really view it as no different from someone who must take insulin everyday to survive.  My body lacks a specific chemical/chemical reaction that most “normal” people have.  It may not be preferable, but it’s how it is, and I feel lucky to live in a time where there are medications to help me manage this issue.  However, even in this age, there are some people that have a startling lack of knowledge about a fairly prevalent illness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD affects about 2.3% of the United States population age 18 to 54 years (ie, approximately Americans). An additional 1 million children and adolescents have the disorder. (source)

The point is that, undiagnosed people who suffer from this likely feel alone, confused, and afraid, so instead of people being glib or using OCD as the punchline in some kind of joke, wouldn’t it be better to try to help by spreading awareness and offering assistance?

I’d also like to point out that as with many “mental illnesses” in this country, people who suffer from OCD are not usually a danger to anyone, except for maybe themselves if they feel they can no longer handle their anxiety and the resultant compulsive behaviors.

Anyway, I can’t think of a neat way to wrap this up so I’ll just say, unless you’re feeling particularly distressed by your obsessions or quirks, (in which case, I feel for you and the are people who can help,) you don’t have OCD so stop telling people you do.

Good-bye, Robin. I’m Sorry.

I’m sure people will be posting ad nauseam on here about Robin William’s apparent suicide…and that’s okay.  It has occurred to me more than once how Facebook and other social media have come to play a big part in our grieving process, from sharing memories, to revelling in our loved one’s presence for just a bit longer, to sharing our grief with others…

But I just want to say one thing, and it’s about mental illness…depression….anxiety.

It’s amazing how many people do not have a full understanding of what true clinical depression and anxiety are like.  These illnesses are diagnosed now more than ever before, and I’m sure their inevitable over-diagnosis leads some people to believe they are not that serious.  True clinical depression and anxiety are not situational.  “Why are you sad?  Why are you anxious? Did something happen? Are you unhappy?” or by extension “What reason do you have to be depressed?”

As someone who suffers from both anxiety and depression since early childhood, I don’t mind answering honest questions, but I am tired of the stereotypes, and especially tired of the use of the term “mental illness” as a buzz word or scapegoat for every dirtbag that would walk into a school with a gun and blow through a clip before shooting himself, thus putting us out of his misery.

This, what happened to Robin Williams, is the true face of mental illness in this country.  For me personally, having grown up always with this man in the periphery, his voice talents, his acting, always with good cheer and humor, (not to mention the fact that he reminds me of my Dad in some ways,) the idea that someone so warm and (by all accounts) genuine and caring, felt low enough to take his own life is unutterably sad.

Yes, he left behind a wife and grown children who will grieve him, but he didn’t take it to a public place with the intent to harm others or to garner attention or fifteen minutes more in the spot light.  He went quietly, and in the end the person who suffered the most was him.

Not with a bang but a whimper. 

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