In the wake of the Douglas High school shooting, mental health is bubbling on tongues in conversations like stomach acid. Why is it we only talk about mental illness when the guns are smoking? And just how linked are murder and mental health?
That’s a big question–one that I can’t answer.
I’m no pro. Even they might not have the answers.
But, I do deal with depression and anxiety, and I know that I would never kill someone else. It makes me twitch and turn in my seat to think that some people believe I’m more prone to terrorism because I sometimes struggle to see the value in my own life.
Desperate For An Answer
When something so tragic happens–when our foundation shakes–society grabs onto whichever explanation is closest and clings to it for a sense of stability, even if it is not the sole explanation.
Certainly, mental health plays a part in such tragedies but, suddenly, I feel like people are keeping me at an arm’s length or in their side eye because of their fear of my supposed capabilities.
I get it, we all want answers; a mourning world is desperate for them. And I do believe that mental health should be considered in the aftermath of a tragedy. But, let’s not rush into explanation by making blanket statements or clinging onto seemingly easy answers.
We can’t just generalize and lock the crazies up. That’s been tried before without success, and it is a poor attempt at distancing ourselves from ourselves.
Fleeing What We Fear In Ourselves
Holding onto mental illness as the answer for assassinations, I believe is a means for people to separate themselves from what they fear, not in the depressed and anxious, but in themselves.
No matter how clean your yard is or how nice your profile picture is, each of us has horrific capabilities. We all have the potential for evil. Think of all the celebrities, people we looked up to, people who had everything we wanted, who have now fallen in shame. Remember John Wayne Gacy Jr., a notorious serial killer, who was “a nice guy” according to his neighbors and a blessing to the hospital at which he comforted dying children. Just watch any crime show–the killer is never the person you’d expect. It’s the aunt, the uncle, the mother, the brother, the father, the sister, the neighbor, the friend, the maid…it’s the average joe. We don’t live in a Marvel movie.
We need to be careful to not widen the chasm between the depressed and the mentally healthy. It is a way to separate us vs. them. And by doing so, we are pushing away the dark potential we see inside of ourselves while the mentally ill get pushed further into the shadows.
It’s like the homophobic who taunts the gay community while he himself has concealed same-sex attraction. He fears in others what he sees in himself.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I believe that each of us, somewhere in the depths, knows this to be true: we are not so different than those we hate.
Muting A Vital Conversation
Why would someone tell anyone that they are depressed, anxious, or suicidal if they knew it would mean they’d be pinned as a killer? It seems extreme, but it’s the reality of the situation. When we so readily blame mental illness, we turn down the volume on the dialogue of mental illness and encourage the strugglers to further suppress their thoughts and feelings until they either implode or explode and the cycle begins again.
Mental illness shouldn’t be a Google trend only when some dumbass pulls a dick move. It can’t be our go-to scapegoat or our easy answer. The topic of mental illness should be in our everyday conversations because everyday people are dealing with it.
Sometimes, Evil Might Just Be Evil
We all want answers, but finding one is never as simple as we want to believe. Mental illness might be part of the answer, but it is not the answer. Gun regulations, violent video games, desensitizing movies, bullying, and even the breakdown of traditional families statistically play a part in tragedy as much as, if not more than, mental illness. In fact, “Mentally ill people are far, far likelier to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators,” Dylan Matthews points out.
There is a myriad of irrational reasons why an idiot 19-year-old would shoot up a school. Humanity cannot comprehend such evil, but the seventeen victims deserve that each avenue is thoroughly explored so as to seek an answer for the past, a remedy for the future, and justice for today. Still, at the end of the day, evil might just be evil, and such a dark potential lies inside each of us. That reality should humble us all, and even unite us in building a better future. And I don’t say all of this to put you on the same level as a killer, but I ask that you be careful to not so easily blur the lines between mental health and murder. The two are in no way synonymous.
Together we can pave a new path of thought by not so boldly separating us from them. Let’s not blame mental illness alone for murder.
Jeffery Swanson, a Duke University professor, sociologist, and psychiatric epidemiologist says this:
“People with mental illness are people, and the vast majority aren’t any more of a risk than anyone else.”
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know!