More cops? More guns? More counselors? Two weeks ago, Julianne Hing wrote a story about how since the shooting in Newtown, schools have been bracing for increased police presence on campus. Last week she covered how Obama’s gun control may end up reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline. Seth Freed Wessler also brought to bear an analysis on what Obama’s gun plan means for mental health care. Though we can agree that what happened in Newtown was a terrible tragedy, there is little agreement on how best to prevent another such incident from occurring. Here’s what you had to say.
The question is not, "What’s Mental Illness Have to Do With Gun Violence?" The question is what does mental illness have to do with violence." The answer is clear when one looks at the totality of research, rather than any one study:
Studies of the 40 to 50 percent of Americans whom mental health experts claim have some "diagnosable mental disorder" support the claim that "persons with mental illness are not more violent than others." But the populations in those studies are disingenuously large.
Studies of the 5 percent of Americans with the most serious mental illnesses — primarily schizophrenia and treatment-resistant bipolar disorder — who are receiving treatment also support the claim of mental-health experts that "persons with mental illness are not more violent than others." But these studies prove only that treatment works, not that persons with mental illness are not more prone to violence.
Studies of the 5 percent of subgroup of the most seriously mentally ill who are not in treatment and are psychotic, delusional, or hallucinating, or are off treatment that has previously prevented them from being violent, are in fact more prone to violence than others.
When people ask whether the mentally ill are more violent, they usually mean this group of severely ill individuals and not their friends on Zoloft, Prozac, etc.
In reference to the above article, I do think the President was appropriately protective toward those with mental illness, but his message is at risk of being drowned out by commonly-held assumptions, which are fueled by the gun lobby efforts to focus on, at best, an exaggerated correlation between gun violence and mental illness. Not only do we need a broad expansion of preventive programs for school-age kids, not to mention restoring the essential enrichment and healing of the arts, but also of supports for the post-school population, which tends to fall through the cracks. At the same time, I think an important piece of the President’s initiative should include raising awareness of what the real risk factors are, which include access to guns in the home and the impact of isolation on a vulnerable person. Perhaps his calling on the CDC will answer some of these questions. On another level, I think there is a correlation between violence in our culture and the myth of individualism (not real the real thing)–the falsity of considering oneself separate (and immune) from the community, an attitude that becomes "us against them." This mindset breeds separatism, whether racism or fear and disdain of those with mental illness or those who are poor or sick, or the arrogant attitudes of modern-day robber barons that might as well have lived in Dickens’ time. Remember the scene with Scrooge and the charity-seekers? "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" "Oh–but many would rather die than go there, sir." "Well, let them die and do it quickly–and decrease the surplus population." This is the attitude that the culture would refrain from espousing outright but it is there, encouraging labeling, stigmatizing, isolating, rage against compromise and tolerance and the reality that we are social beings who thrive in the richness and strengths of differences. Mental illness is but one dimension of a person who has many strengths and attributes, and unique things to offer by the fact of having that illness. Do we look down on a veteran running a race without a limb, or on Steven Hawking, who became a celebrated scientist who speaks by breathing into his computer? Why would one with mental illness be considered any less courageous?
When everything else is (approximately or proportionately) equal between countries with regard to the number of guns sold/owned, but US violence is higher than normal, one might reach the conclusion that something’s wrong with the US in particular.
Seems to me folks are overlooking the possibility that the kind of mental illness really at issue is woven into the cultural fabric of the country itself, going back to the very pretexts upon which it was founded.
Take a bunch of people from disparate backgrounds, strip them of their identity and culture, in exchange for soulless jingoism and zero sum game capitalism, instill them with fear over racial/ethnic divisions – i.e. white supremacy – scare them further with xenophobic media narratives, distract them with consumerism, convince them that they’re victims, and then put a bunch of guns in their hands. What do you figure will happen?
Oh, right. This.
Gun violence in this country isn’t mental health problem. It’s a US cultural problem. And how in the world do we go about fixing THAT?
KermitO, I think you have EXACTLY identified the underlying problem. It may be that mental health will of necessity come to include a focus on ending xenophobia and racism. Where "Teaching Tolerance" curricula have been used in schools, there is a huge drop in violence, bullying, and hate crimes. Bigotry is a form of mental health disconnect, but because it is a phenomenon of even the well born, we do NOT discuss it as a mental health issue. We will have to if we are ever going to end the vicious disparities and violence that are the hallmarks of American culture. Thank you for making this statement so clearly.
Susan Christine Massey:
I do like the idea of more counselors, so they can get to better know and support the kids and families they serve, and not be stretched so thin. If that really happens with states underfunding teacher salaries or late. But it would be far more effective than "policing."
Unfortunately, the burden that schools face is driving difficult conversations. I absolutely agree there is need for increased counseling; a principal or teacher are not equipped for the behavioral issues faced in schools. It is not a pretty world anymore, nor are there easy answers.