Saturday, December 15, 2012

Perceptions of Mental Illness After Mass Shootings

     I (we) have been watching with growing concern the increase in mass shootings around the country and the ideas it is forming and bringing out in people concerning the mentally ill.  In my own personal studies of humanity in crime (see Supernova posts), I have noticed that whenever atrocious crimes are committed people instantly try to distance their identity from the perpetrator.  Perhaps the incredulity of what one person in their identity group has done leads to a nagging fear in the back of their minds of what they themselves are capable of.  In any case, distancing oneself from the person who has committed immoral, shameful, or misunderstood acts seems to be the first gut reaction when the deed is made public. "They cannot really be human" people exclaim in astonishment.  Or they find reassurance in pointing to a group they do not associate with as the cause for such terrible actions.  I have been alarmed at the reassurance people seem to find in automatically assuming that mass shooters are mentally ill, or in cases of confirmed mental illness, that they believe the mental illness to be the root cause of such extreme violence.

     While some people who believe mental illness to be the cause of mass shootings are pushing for better mental health care in the US, which is desperately needed, I am concerned about the serious detrimental consequences such a belief will have to the community of people living with mental illness.  First off, we share in the shock and grief of the national and universal community we are also a part of when we hear about such crimes.  Secondly it is an unfair affront to automatically lump us together with criminals simply because of a condition which is completely out of our control. Mental illness does not a criminal make.  Being mentally ill does not make a person dangerous.

      Not to mention it is unjust (I won't say unfair) to the perpetrators in assuming they must be mentally deranged to be capable of committing such a violent act.  Or that mental illness is the only reason they would commit such a thing.  Such an act is beyond asking for help, but it is a scream that is MEANT to be heard worldwide.  I ache for them as I do for the victims they have taken.  I can see that some mental illness may make them more predisposed to act on such rage and despair, but rage and despair are things not belonging solely to mental illness, but rather to the human condition.  It is impossible for any human to point to these lost souls and be able to honestly say "They are not one of us!".  The pain and emotion that beat in them is a pain and emotion that beats in all of us; the numbness that blinds them to a sacred reverence for life we have all proven ourselves capable of in lesser degrees.  PAIN is what causes people to kill.  Not guns.  Not mental illness.  Trying to control guns and mental illness may help curb mass destruction but will not address the root cause; ignoring it will only cause that root issue to grow.  I firmly believe that disowning these men will only widen the rift inside ourselves and between each other, and turn a blind eye towards further destruction in the future.

     Another worry about the growing animosity towards mental illness is that most people who live with it will not be in a position to speak out and defend themselves.  Either their mental illness prevents them from organizing and expressing coherent thought, or the stigma against mental health shames them from admitting to anyone that they have a disorder.  The perception of mental illness is already so poorly understood that most people try to deal with it quietly with as few people in their lives knowing about it as possible.  It is easy to pile a stigma on the brand of mental health when no one can speak against it without blowing their cover or making themselves a target.

     I believe the point we are at now in history can be a good turning point if we can learn to truly communicate and listen to each other, not just with our ears and minds, but our whole being.  We need to share ourselves, to express ourselves with each other.  Something needs to be done, not just on a legal level, or a national level, but on a heart level, individually and as a community.


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