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TabloidsI wrote about the need to talk about guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting. A lot of people think we need to talk about mental illness. I agree, but I’m not sure we should be talking about mental illness in the context of mass shootings.

The vast majority mentally ill people are not violent. They’re our friends and family members, our neighbors and our coworkers. They’re you and me. Many of us will not go through life without battling depression at some point. People often struggle in silence because of the stigma associated with battling a psychological disorder.

The media does a pretty poor job portraying mental illness. A disturbed person doesn’t typically make the news until something bad happens. They’re barricaded in a home with a gun threatening suicide. They’ve stabbed their mother to death. They’ve fondled little girls’ feet in libraries.

We assume mass murderers are mentally ill, but that may not always be the case. The Tuscon shooter has schizophrenia. The Aurora shooter’s lawyers say he has a mental illness. But some mass murderers are not mentally ill – they’re just seeking revenge. Experts simply do not know enough about the people who commit mass shootings. One researcher found no correlation between rates of mental illness and gun deaths. Experts have repeatedly said it’s hard to predict these slaughters in advance.

Here’s what we do know: Most people who are violent are not mentally ill. Only a small percentage of violence can be attributed to people with mental illness. People with severe psychiatric disorders are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

We absolutely need to talk about identifying and supporting people with mental illness. But it may not be the discussion you wanted.

12 Responses to Talk About Mental Illness

  1. December 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm Bill Nojay responds:

    “…I’m not sure we should be talking about mental illness in the context of mass shootings…”

    Rachel, stop writing for a day or two. You are hurting yourself.

  2. December 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    Hear, hear!

  3. Rachel, I think that psychologists are going to have to create a new category for these violent crimes. I cannot believe that someone who does this is in their right mind. This was not a crime of passion. This was a planned attack by a deranged individual. What is the cause of this behavior? Is it nature or nurture? I grew up in the 70’s and TV was pretty violent then, but we did not have video games either. There is something happening to our society. Life is not precious to people like the shooter. We need to get to the bottom of that.
    Just my .02 cents…

  4. My brother suffers from Depersonalization Disorder and is now fearful of seeking help for it because of the backlash from Sandy Hook. He feels that his doctors will consider him to be a danger to himself and others, and view him as insane. I don’t know how to help him, but this isn’t making it any better. I have also suffered form depression and kept it to myself just as you said. There needs to be more awareness on mental illnesses. It’s FAR more common than you think.

  5. To paraphrase: The vast majority of legal gun owners are not violent. They’re our friends and family members, our neighbors and our coworkers…

  6. December 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm Ginny Maier responds:

    BTW, I was responding to Rachel’s post, not the
    comment above mine. I don’t think it is, or was, wrong for her to raise these issues about mental illness now. With the intense news coverage, it’s already a part of the conversation about this incident. I appreciate Rachel’s viewpoint.

  7. Rachel, I disagree. Anyone who intentionally takes the life of an innocent person is mentally ill. Talking about mental illness does not exclude talking about gun control. And talking about mental illness doesn’t mean talking negatively about those who suffer from it. No one should be afraid of asking for help. The less we talk about mental illness the more of a stigma there will be.

  8. The last 2 mass shootings were by mentally ill young men. TV, media, parental denial, access to guns play the role and bear the responsibility. This IS the time to talk about that, imho.

  9. I don’t know if this man had a mental illness to go with it but so far we know he had a biological condition in which he didn’t feel pain. In school he had a one to one aide who had to make sure he didn’t injure himself because he wouldn’t know it and a developmental dis ability either aspergers or autism. He was always afraid and couldn’t relate to other kids. At age 20, he probably should have still had school or some programming. Disabled kids like this mature a lot more slowly than other kids and may always need special programming. What struck me was that like the NFL player who killed himself and his girlfriend, this family loved guns and went to the shooting range often. People who have guns are a lot more dangerous than those without. We need to put stronger controls on guns and ammunition in this society.

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