Gun Control

Blaming Mental Illness

I am writing this for those who feel silenced by stigmatizing rhetoric that is being passed around online, so their voices can be heard. 

With the continued occurrence and increased frequency of mass shootings we are all lost, angry, confused, and simply baffled. Why do these things happen? Why do they keep happening? Is it Mental Health or a gun control issue? 

I cannot speak to gun control – as this is not something I am knowledgeable enough to offer insight on. What I do ask, as someone who works in the mental health field, please consider how lack of compassion may be a factor in these tragedies. 

I have had several recent conversations with those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness – often by myself. Every time an article comes out that mentions the importance of mental health care in relation to a mass shooting there is a heaviness in the air for anyone who has experienced mental illness in their lives. Why? Because the idea of mental illness = violence is a dangerous and isolating belief. 

Is mental health and mental health care important? Of course it is. To deny this, it would mean isolating the brain from our physical bodies. When we hurt emotionally, we hurt physically – and vice versa. We are finally beginning to see mental healthcare as a topic that is being discussed openly. It seems that more and more young adults are quick to recommend therapy services for someone they love who they suspect would benefit from additional support. The danger comes into play when we become so desperate for answers that we place blanketed labels on our friends, neighbors, loved ones, and those we have not even met or gotten to know yet. 

Just as mental illness and mental health care becomes demystified and destigmatized, those who commit acts of violence are being primarily labeled as “mentally ill” without any further context. Giving such a broad label to such a specific behavior is irresponsible and dangerous for those who have been given this label – as well as our society as a whole. 

I will never understand what might drive someone to commit such an extreme act of violence. I do agree that in the time that this occurs the offender is not thinking clearly. But, I urge you, to please remember that for many, if not the majority, of those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, the last thing these individuals would everwant to do is to inflict harm on anyone else. To simply state that Mental Health care is important, and to use mass shootings as an example, makes someone who is not the least bit dangerous to someone else feel even more alone and frightened about how they may be treated if their diagnosis were to be found out. 

I understand the outrage at these senseless acts of violence. I am outraged too. In your anger, please remember to spread love, light, and compassion toward others. Collective anger and frustration is warranted. The only thing that helps heal that, however, is the opposite. 

Reasons that we have heard from those who commit acts of violence have included isolation and being treated badly by others. If taken to the extreme, this can lead to a lack of compassion and dehumanization of others. If you feel safe and able to check in with someone who appears to be struggling, this may make a larger impact than any law could possibly have. 

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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