I really try to avoid being very political on both the blog and podcast. I’m not here to discuss politics, not only because I don’t want to alienate any listeners, but because all people, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexuality or religious and political preferences – deserve their mental health be taken seriously. My goal is to be a friend to the community, and by that I mean the WHOLE community, not just those who happen to agree with me politically.
Sometimes, though, politics intrude into our domain. Try as I might, I cannot ignore when a major political figure comments on mental illness as the obvious precursor to violence. I think you all know who I am talking about, here.
For the second time since I started this podcast six weeks ago, Americans have been witness to a tragedy. Sunday morning in Texas a man walked into a church and killed twenty-six people, injuring 5 others. For the second time since I started this podcast six weeks ago, I feel compelled to address the role that mental health plays in mass shootings. It’s a splinter in my soul that I have to address this issue again, and yet, here we are – a nation as divided by issue as it is by color or creed, unable to have a rational discussion on even the most important of topics. The rhetoric is based not on solutions, but on blame. The left blames the right. The right blames the left. The president blames the mentally ill, and we the people are caught in the middle, warned that we must be ever vigilant lest we get shot in the back while we pray.
There are many who think that carrying out this attack in and of itself indicates a mental illness, and it very well could be an indicator. There are also those that would point out that this person served time in a military correctional facility and received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force because he beat his wife and child. I don’t hear many people claim that this is also due to a mental illness. It does, though, set up a pattern of violence in a man that would ultimately pull the trigger again, and again, and again – twenty-six times.
Can we truthfully say that violence is always the sign of a mentally ill person? Certainly, there are many people with mental illnesses that are not violent at all. I think the numbers are something in the neighborhood of 80 percent of those with a mental illness are not violent at all, but the myth that they are is one of the stigmas that is particularly damaging and difficult to dispel. Once someone is aware of a mental health diagnosis, suddenly their kids can’t come over anymore. Suddenly any minor irritation becomes proof of your instability. Suddenly people are afraid of you.
But is the implication of the president’s words justified? Do all mass shooters have a mental illness? Timothy McVeigh did not (though he was a bomber, not a shooter). The man who shot up Pulse nightclub did not.
Often, Extremism is the cause of mass shootings. But let’s assume for a minute that mental illness and violence do go together. That must mean that most violent perpetrators are mentally ill, right?
And that is what I am afraid of.
A recent article by Fox News goes into detail about the shooter’s mental health, speaking to old classmates who described him as “heavily medicated”. It paints a picture of a very disturbed individual. The article makes references to his being on “psych meds” at an early age and posting about atheism on Facebook, though it was not clear as to what medications he was on. What is known for sure is that he had a history of domestic violence, and it appears that is what precipitated the church shooting, according to The Washington Post.
There is an inherent danger in painting one group broadly with the “mentally ill” brush. Mental illnesses are are different and varied as the people who battle them are. To say that mental illness is as fault here (and diagnosed, treated illness to boot) is to say that any mentally ill person is a bomb that has yet to explode. It suggests that even medicated, treated people with a mood disorder can be considered dangerous.
I don’t know about you, but that scares the shit out of me.