There are a couple of things in common in some mass killings. One is that a weapon is used. The other is that the person doing the killing suffers from mental illness. The former is the “real problem” in some discussions. The latter is not. We aren’t allowed to talk about mental illness.
There are two reasons why mental illness is given special status when we address these extremely rare, but certainly real, tragedies. First, raising mental illness deflects attention away from gun control, and gun control advocates refuse to allow anything to divert focus on their preferred solution. Second, mental illness has become a sacred cow, and we’re not allowed to have real discussions that involve sacred cows.
Public health experts say ready access to firearms makes it easier for people to act on suicidal thoughts. And about 85 percent of suicide attempts that involve guns are successful, compared with less than 3 percent of those involving drug overdoses. Over all, guns were used in about half of the 41,000 suicides in 2013, the latest year for which there is data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fair enough. So there are a lot of mentally ill people who commit suicide, or at least try, and many use guns to do so. Yet, the balance of the editorial is about what can be done about guns. Guns don’t make people suicidal. Mental illness makes people suicidal. And so the solution to suicide is guns.
Those who oppose expanded gun-control legislation frequently argue that instead of limiting access to guns, the country should focus on mental health problems.
Blaming mental health problems for gun violence in America gives the public the false impression that most people with mental illness are dangerous, when in fact a vast majority will never commit violence. Still, some legal changes should be made to reduce access to firearms among the small percentage of people with mental illness who are dangerous to themselves or others.
This is simplistic rhetoric, designed to safeguard the sacred cow of mental health and redirect attention to the hated issue of guns. We should blame mental health problems for mental health problems. To the extent anyone might get the “false impression” that “most people with mental illness are dangerous,” then correct that impression. But to pretend that some people with mental illness are not dangerous is similarly false.
To take facts off the table of discussion because some people just don’t want them to be there is disingenuous and unhelpful. You really don’t care about the problem if you refuse to allow an honest factual discussion. You make the problem secondary to your politics, and so you forfeit your right to cry sad tears when tragedy strikes and you’re complicit.
As you correctly point out in “Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Gun Violence” (editorial, Dec. 16), strictly associating mental illness with mass shootings is a misguided and uninformed tactic that oversimplifies the complex issue of gun violence. But more important, it further perpetuates the negative attitudes of the American public toward people with mental illness.
“Strictly”? Cute trick, but the key phrase is “further perpetuates the negative attitudes . . . toward people with mental illness.” This comes from a hospital administrator. The crux of the progressive view toward mental illness is that the most important concern is eliminating the stigma.
Therefore, it is critically important that we continue to direct our collective efforts toward educating the public on mental illness stigma reduction and elimination.
Tell that to the victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass murder. James Holmes had a gun. James Holmes was also mentally ill. Why is one “the real problem” and the other unmentionable because it “perpetuates negative attitudes”?
What’s simplistic is to wrap all mental illness up in a pretty pink bow, as if someone suffering from mental illness so as to have murderous delusions is no different from someone who suffers depression and anxiety. What is simplistic is to take mental illness off the table of discussion.
I know. We all know. There are a great many people we like, we feel kindly toward, who suffer from some degree of mental illness. We want them to seek help. We want them to be able to get treatment without being characterized as batshit crazy and offered a supporting role in One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest. But we also need to recognize that there is a spectrum of mental illness, and somewhere along that spectrum is violence, harm to themselves or others.
“But it’s an illness,” you cry. “You wouldn’t stigmatize someone for having cancer, would you?”
Of course not, but then, having cancer isn’t a material factor in someone deciding to murder people. It’s a false analogy. Denying that it’s a false analogy doesn’t save a life. Pretending that some mentally ill people, the ones who suffer from violent delusions, aren’t a threat to others is a deadly fantasy. Your empathy comes at the cost of someone else’s life.
To make matters worse, the scope of mental illness has devolved to the point of its being disconnected from serious pathology. We’re inundated with conflated claims of students who suffer from self-proclaimed and self-diagnosed PTSD and demand safe spaces, trigger warnings. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious diagnosis, and they don’t suffer from it.
Instead, they’ve watered it down to become an excuse for needing solace from every unpleasant twinge, and by doing so, created a mass of faux mental illness entitled to dignity and recognition. We’re close to, if not at, the point where suffering from pseudo-mental illness is the next cool victimhood. As a result, the victims are entitled to whatever they claim is necessary to remove their stigma and eliminate their unhappiness. That’s just nuts.
Trading off the lives of people who are harmed, killed, by those who are mentally ill, and whose mental illness manifests itself in violence, for those who feel entitled to not feel anything unpleasant is the by-product of making mental illness a sacred cow that cannot be part of the discussion. It exists. It’s part of the problem. It needs to be addressed. Your simplistic politics won’t make death at the hands of a mentally ill person any less tragic.