When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

If you’ve read my work, you know I am massively for mental healthcare reform. Not just a little bit in favor, but balloons and blog posts on blog posts and boundless enthusiasm for it.

But you know when I’m really really uncomfortable talking about mental health?

Right now. 

Tragedies are horrible. They’re senseless.

School shootings are especially so. We hurt and we reach out and hug our children and try to make sense of everything. And always, always, we talk about schizophrenia, borderline personalities, bipolar disorder.

Adam Lanza’s mental health won’t be known. Not ever. There’s a lot of things we’d like him answer for–unclaimed Christmas presents and crying families and six year olds with cameras on them and reporters in their faces. We’d like to know why he did it. We want to know what was going on in that mind. There’s no explanation that will put this into perspective. Because, what kind of perspective could it be to understand what would drive you to kill children?

But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.

Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know.

You do not know his state of mind. When you decide to armchair quarterback him, to stamp him with an “obvious” diagnosis, do you know what you are saying?

Here is a terrible thing. The only thing that could possibly cause someone to do such a terrible, tragic thing is to have This Disorder. Because only people with This Disorder could be so dangerous/awful/scary. 

And you, you people who want to look for signs of schizophrenia, who want to talk about how he ‘went crazy’, how he just needed medication, I want you to consider how much harder you are making it for someone to seek treatment.

I want everyone to seek the help they need, and I’d bet you do too.

I want the next person who hears things or sees things, or has invasive thoughts to reach out and have a place to land. I want them to be listened to and to find employment. I want their safety net to care for them and call on the bad days.

I don’t want them torn up with worry that they could be the next shooter, to isolate themselves because they ‘could be dangerous’. I don’t want their friends to worry for their lives. People with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victims of violence. They are more likely to suffer than perpetrate.

You want to care for the living? You want mental health care to be better? Stop making mental illness the scapegoat. You are causing stigma. You are making it harder. You are part of the problem. If today, seeing a therapist was free, treatment was covered as long as it was needed, do you think everyone who needed it would go? If the dominant narrative is that only ‘crazy people’  shoot schoolchildren?

I worked in a research lab developing and testing therapy for schizophrenia when I was 18, where in part, I interviewed participants and tagged along on treatment sessions. To this day, when I mention it–one of the best experiences of my studies–the common reaction is to ask about my safety. My safety from people who patiently let a teenager ask them incredibly personal questions for hours, who let me into their homes and lives. People with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. These attitudes are.

Mental healthcare needs to be better. That is a conversation this country desperately needs to have. Please don’t do it this way.

Note 1: If and only if a therapist who was seeing Lanza or family member  was to come forward and give his diagnosis, I would accept that. However, that doesn’t actually change the point about the narrative we spin about shooters. It’s dangerous and damaging.

Note 2: When you use mental illness as the reason for this shooting, you are ignoring a host of other societal factors that let him buy a gun, that let that gun he bought be a combat rifle.
EDIT: I know that it wasn’t his gun. This was written immediately after the tragedy. Yes, gun culture is still worth discussing.

Note 3: Assuming mental illness without any kind of evidence is also just plain bad skepticism. As if we needed another reason to stop doing that.

When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

316 thoughts on “When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

  1. 3

    I agree with you, of course, but I would add a second reason to not talk about mental health right now.

    One of these days, maybe today in fact, the gun lobby is going to realize that mental health concerns … their enemy in the past because it is related to background checks which they want no part of … is how they are going to save their access to their toys when the American people suddenly turn on them.

    We need to deal with guns as an issue of access, ownership, safety, and responsibility, and that includes banning guns and making people keep the ones they can have locked up and getting rid of conceal carry not because it changes the statistics but for the simple reason that gun owners need to be punished as a group because they, in their organized form, have done nothing. So far all the (liberal and careful) gun owners I know agree with this. Some have even said they’d give up their own guns if needed to have sanity.

    But if the discussion suddenly turns aggressively to addressing mental health as a way of dealing with gun violence, then we’ll simply mess around with mental health for a while.

    And, because the gun owner’s lobby does not really want to deal with mental health anyway, that won’t be effective. It will simply be (pardon the military analogy) the gun lobby opening up a second front to drain off resources from the growing ani-gun movement.

    1. 3.2

      “One of these days,”? I think they’ve been using mental health to shift the conversation away from gun availability for a long time. As soon as we know something about any shooter, we declare him crazy, and the pro-gun lobby will loudly shout that guns aren’t the problem, crazy people are the problem. That crowd isn’t very fond of background checks either, but they will have succeeded in sidetracking the debate and that’s what was important to them. Next, the hand-wringing middle-grounders will step in and say we need a national dialog about mental health and how we can keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people. At this point, the whole conversation fizzles out because no one likes national dialogues and did you see what Kim Kardashian wore at that award ceremony?

      We’re not going to have the gun dialog so let’s have the mental health one. How will that work? It’s easy to do a criminal background check because all of the state and federal databases have been linked up and, to certain extent, criminal records are public. What would be the equivalent for mental health? Do we just throw out doctor patient confidentiality and say anyone who ever visits a counselor or mental health professional needs to go on a national registry like sex offenders? What about people who get counselling from a priest or minister? Will all the kids who witnessed this need to go on the registry?

      Kate is right on the button. Mental health is stigmatizing enough and access is difficult enough that we do not need to place an additional stigma up as a barrier to people getting the help they need in life.

      1. Liz

        You make some good points, but I have some questions. According to the media, his mother “purchased the guns legally”, so how would a background check help? I am totally in favor of 100% of all the guns being rounded up and trashed….now just how do we go about doing that? Let me remind you (just in case you are not old enough) Hitler did that right before he took over the nation and killed millions of Jewish people.

        Has anybody noticed the trend that ALL of these incidents involve young males with “mental illness”? I wish someone with expertise in this area would be able to access all of their records and do a detailed analysis on the precursors, medications and diagnoses prior to these events. Did they have anything in common? His neighbors and brother are already saying he had “problems with mental illness” so I can understand why that is coming up. Also, none of the shooters so far have NOT had a mental illness so when people bring that up it truly is a common theme that links all of these senseless murders together.

        I am a mental health professional and there are plenty of people with mental illness that function well in society and don’t go shooting up schools so I agree that stigmatizing is wrong, but what went wrong here? People are going to find a way to inflict harm even if they don’t have a gun. Timothy McVeigh used a bomb, a man in China (just a few days ago) stabbed 20+ school children etc. You can drive your car into the school playground or just use a bottle full of gasoline as an explosive, so getting rid of guns (which you really can’t do effectively) isn’t going to solve anything.

        1. “Getting rid of guns” is not really possible–there are too many of them, and their durability means that they’ll be around for some time. Restrictions on guns, no matter how draconian, are not a panacea, because people who are determined to do bad things will still be able to find them, either through black markets or by stealing from legitimate owners.

          However, saying that restricting gun access wouldn’t solve anything is absurd. We don’t know much about Adam Lanza at this point, but it’s entirely possible that if getting access to high capacity firearms wasn’t as simple as visiting a dealer, showing ID and waiting a few days that he wouldn’t have been able to do the amount of damage that he did. Sure, he could have sought out a gun by illegal means, but it would have been harder and there is a chance that in the process he’d be caught. And of course, if guns weren’t an option he could have brought a knife, or a bomb, or a bottle of gasoline, but the cost-benefit tradeoff of restricting firearms with high capacity magazines versus restricting everything else a person can use to hurt other people seems like a no-brainer.

          I don’t know what the right regulations are or how best to enact them, but pretending that controlling gun access wouldn’t decrease the likelihood of incidents like this (or the body count when such things do happen) seems unreasonable.

          1. What could be done is to make certain types of ammunition illegal to buy, sell, or possess, with hefty enough fines to make it distasteful. Give everybody a year or so to go discharge all their ammo at shooting ranges, and then make it 5 or 10 thousand an offence if you get caught with any. That way, even people making their own bullets are covered by the law. Sure, there would be a black market, but the upshot is that it would be a lot more expensive hobby, which would cut out a lot of people, and it would help change the cultural mores into shooting being not a cool thing, but a stupid and illegal and costly thing.

        2. Let me remind you (just in case you are not old enough) Hitler did that right before he took over the nation and killed millions of Jewish people.

          I’m calling bullshit on this. First, it didn’t happen “before Hitler took over the nation.” The 1938 German Weapons Act was enacted a whole five years after Hitler’s ascent to power. Second, the act did not eliminate gun access, it merely expanded controls previously established by the 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition. Third, it actually expanded access to guns for certain groups (e.g., NSDAP party members).

          Has anybody noticed the trend that ALL of these incidents involve young males with “mental illness”?

          That’s because “mental illness” is an easy way of “Othering” the shooters. That is, if we can slap a label to these people, it becomes a lot easier to dismiss this as the act of somebody who wasn’t fully human, but rather had an attribute (i.e., mental illness) that means he was different.

          Hell, if mental illness really was an important factor (rather than a post-hoc rationalization), then how can you explain the huge gender skew in mass shootings? AFAIK, incidence of mental illnesses (across the board) is pretty evenly distributed between men and women, and yet the vast majority of spree shooters appear to be men. This suggests that other factors may be far more relevant than mental illness (specifically, the fact that U.S. culture is obsessed with guns, and guns come to symbolize male power).

          1. Actually, the major factor, according to forensic psychiatrist Dr Dietz, is media coverage. These mass murderers are casting themselves in their own action/adventure story. Guns and violence glorification is part of that, but media saturation is what many of them are seeking. Trying to out-do each other, to gain infamy.

            Dr Dietz also says about serial killers that they do *not* commit these murders due to being mentally ill. Even though they have disorders or maladjustment, they’re in control of their actions. For what that’s worth.

          2. So you’re saying because Hitler restricted guns 5 years after he came into power its completely fine?! Obviously his first move as dictator probably wouldn’t be to take away guns immediately, think the people might’ve had a slighttt problem with that? And yeah, good thing it increased access for only his secret Gestapo police and those who agreed with him. You’re arguing facts that actually destroy your point.

          3. What I find perpetually disturbing is how few clinical psych professionals (like the one above) seem able to grasp the relevance of ‘othering’ to the act of throwing around mental illness labels. For so many of them to be so uninformed on such a fundamental principle in social psych — and for them to fail so utterly to grasp the pervasive harm done to all of society by this ubiquitous dynamic, to say nothing of those who are forced to bear the heaviest burdens of stigma — it truly boggles the mind.

            Reform, indeed. I’d start by tearing down the towering fortresses that psych academia & the clinical psych professions have built to protect themselves from any outside influence — or accountability. Condone torture, APA? Really? FAIL. When it comes to the mental health of an individual or of a nation, it seems the “leaders” in this field are too blind to lead us anywhere but further down the gullet of Hell.

          4. Thank you for pointing out how ludicrous that argument is. Apparently joining two buzz words (Hitler and guns) in the same phrase makes a totally absurd logic seem relevant.
            Do people know that probably he also brushed his teeth before “taking over the nation and killing millions”?
            So, lets be concerned when a political figure brushes his teeth, maybe a dictatorship is about to be ensued.
            What about all other countries where gun possession was banned, were all the laws required for that to happen passed only to guarantee the rise to power of a dictator?

        3. You CAN get rid of guns- Australia did after the Port Arthur Massacre, which happened to be perpetrated by a very odd young man with a history of strange behaviour. There are certain guns which can be licensed but they must be kept in secure locked cabinets and must be used for either target practice at an approved range or for licensed commercial animal shooters. No handguns or repeat-firing guns are available to the public. Australia has had far less mass killings since the regulatory legislation and gun amnesty was held. There is a small redneck lobby here who want to have guns everywhere, but they’re totally outvoted by the sensible majority- which is fantastic.
          As for the mental illness component- whether someone has a lifelong problem or a “moment of insanity”, at the time they are thinking “logically” about their actions. They have a logical sequence of thoughts that leads them to see that killing is a viable solution. As a community, we need to be more caring and vigilant about people around us who are carrying large mental burdens. Our mental health systems need to be more accessible and friendly, to be heavily subsidised by the State (by normal taxation and/or levies on higher income groups) so that we ALL pay for the care of our community members. We will all rest more easily if we all contribute to the solution.
          And then there will be unpredictable occurrences that will still shock and sadden us. Because humans are like that. We are very flexible, and occasionally one of us turns that flexibility to destruction.

    2. 3.3

      YES, this. The focus on mental health lets society off the hook in terms of addressing gun control, addressing the culture of hyperviolent masculinity in the United States, and other relevant topics.

      1. No.
        You using a mental illness “borderline” as a pejorative. There aren’t “borderline” things you say. Saying things and simultaneously having BPD (borderline personality disorder) doesn’t make one a bad person, any more than a neurotypical person saying things does.
        Further repetition of ableist crap like that will result in deletion.

    3. 3.5

      Greg, I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before, but perhaps it bears repeating: when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Certainly the gun laws presently on the books have made no dent in gun violence, partly because, unless somehow the manufacture and sale of firearms is completely prohibited (and remember the nightmare of crime that ensued when the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was completely prohibited), criminals, who don’t give a flying rat’s ass about the law, will have their pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, whatever, and will rest real easy knowing that all the non-criminals whom they confront will be defenseless. I am much less comfortable with that scenario than I am with one in which some weirdo with all the empathy of a tarantula gets hold of a firearm and kills a bunch of people, kids, whomever. Nor do I feel comfortable with a situation in which all firearms are in the hands of only the police, the military, and other agents of the government.

  2. 4

    Not to mention, when people point to mental illness, they are refusing to deal with the cultural narrative that teaches people–especially men, especially white men–that they are entitled to things (submissive wives and girlfriends, children, a good job, a nice car), and that when those things are not forthcoming, it’s because the natural order of the world has been upended, and it’s up to them, the lone hero, to take action and set things straight. By force if necessary.

    1. 4.2

      @ SallyStrange: Elite Femi-Fascist Genius.. Absolutely agree. Its too easy to point the finger at mental health issues, when in reality only approx 10% of mass shooters have a legally defined mental illness (as with general population) As Prof Paul Mullen, forensic Psychiatrist & world renown expert on mass shootings says, these guys are typically, social isolates, methodical, however, they are not usually insane (per-say) They are more often diss-effected, socially isolated men, following a pattern / cultural script ..That cultural script, more often than not, is revenge with a reward of notoriety. These men are usually, but not exclusively, political extremists of the far right. They often have obsessional, militaristic fantasies & plan the shooting weeks & perhaps even months ahead..

      1. @ Rene Burns…I think you’re being slightly too limiting with your description of the culture that feeds this mentality. The ones who have committed these acts may usually be political extremists of the far right, and they may often have obsessional militaristic fantasies, and they may in fact mostly be disaffected social isolates.

        But the culture that produces individuals like this is not counter- or sub- to mainstream western culture. It IS the mainstream…patriarchal, white-supremacist, and yes, with a default toward violent revenge in response to perceived wrongs.

        I don’t believe you and I would really disagree, but I think it’s important for us (I’m assuming we’re in roughly the same western cultural demographic, even if we don’t interact with the culture in the same way) to resist trying to distinguish ourselves too much from the culture, not to make the problem about Those Other People. Not only does it make it easier to ignore our own participation on whatever levels it occurs, but it’s far easier and more effective to improve one’s own culture than to impose improvements on another’s.

  3. 8

    Surely there was something wrong with him though? I’m not talking about specific illnesses, but… fucking hell, murdering 20 children is not the kind of behavior you expect from a sane person.

    1. 8.1

      So, I agree and disagree. No, it’s not what you would expect, yes, there was probably something we’d deem wrong (I think much of society deems acting on any violent impulse to be wrong), but is that “wrong” necessarily a mental illness?
      Also, sure, there’s a statistical probability he had an SMI. A fair percent of the population does. That’s fine. Does a fair percentage of the population kill multiple children with assault weapons? Nope. Do either of us serve as therapists to Lanza? Nope. So diagnosing him from over here is bad skepticism.

      1. My response has mostly centered on the argument that it would be unwise to assume the perpetrator was somehow extraordinary and thus, different from the rest of us. It is difficult not to consider mental illness because the truth lies in the fact that our thoughts and actions are dictated by the dynamics of chemical and environmental factors, none of which guarantee consistency or balance.

      2. LC

        I Think it’s important to define what your talking about here. We don’t know whether or not he categorically fit a particular DSM diagnosis – although I think I heard something about mild autism and that his brother referred to him as developmentally delayed – and the presumption that he had schizophrenia or anything else is wrong and damaging to the mental health community.

        That said, does assuming the absence of a personality or mood disorder mean that he was of fine mental health? even if he wouldn’t fit into one of the bins we call mental health disorders, it’s clear that that was something wrong, even if only transiently.

        getting back to the main theme of the article I hold on to some naive optimism that this conversation will remain predominantly positive, and if the price to pay for global access to mental health care, or another major reform is a slight increase in stigmatization, I might just be ok with that.

    2. 8.2

      There’s a difference between mental illness, and being very very VERY wrong. Obvious example: Anders Breikvik doesn’t seem to have had any kind of mental illness; he just believed some really REALLY horrible things.

        1. I don’t believe that child abuse can magically compulse you into killing tons of people. I think that’s an insult to all the millions of people who are abused as children and DON’T kill tons of people.

          1. There are also millions of people who have hateful opinions who don’t start killing tons of people. You are not going to find a single isolated cause as to people behave the way they do, especially not when dealing with rare events such as mass murder, but it is rather a combination of several factors.

            When it comes to child abuse there are also the facts that abusive parents don’t use one single standardized method, and that all children different and thus don’t react in a standardised manner to a given abusive behaviour. It is known that child abuse is on avergage creates more troubled adults all else equal, and that Breivik was determined to be aggressive already at the age of four.

            A simple analogy would be that every time a person has surgery, there is a small risk of dying due to complications with anaesthetics. You can’t here conclude that since the absolute majority of people who have surgery do not die from complications with anaesthetics, then the people who do die from this, must actually have died from something else.

            To rule out child abuse as a contributing factor given all this (and instead saying his action must altogether be the result of his ideology, as if people didn’t base their ideology to at least some extent on their childhood experiences), would really border on child abuse apoligism.

    3. 8.3

      Really, this is something I ONLY expect from Sane people.

      Something to remember is that “sane” has no real medical meaning. People can have abnormal brain chemistry all sorts of ways. Sanity, or Insanity, is a legal term, when one is not fit to stand trial for their acts, because they are incapable of assisting in their own defense, and/or incapable of determining right from wrong.

      In order to actually be “insane,” to be unfit for trial, you have to have abnormal brain chemistry to the degree that, generally speaking, anything as complicated as orchestrating a mass shooting should be near impossible.

      Was there “something wrong” with this man? Most certainly. Was he Neuro-atypical? Possibly, but that is not really either necessary nor sufficient to have caused this.

    4. 8.4

      There is something *abnormal* about his psych, which generally means that he is suffering some form of disorder, although I’m sure no one here is knowledgeable enough to make a real diagnosis (especially without hearing from Lanza himself). So yes, there was technically something “wrong ” with him, and a very high chance that he suffers from a severe, violent form of a mental disorder.

      But here’s the thing; yes, there’s probably “something wrong” with Lanza, but then people start drawing inductive conclusions; because his behaviour is so abnormal and incomprehensible to most of us, and he is a mass murderer, so therefore anyone whose behaviour is abnormal and incomprehensible to most of us must also be dangerous and violent.

  4. 9

    I am sorry, but I disagree. The gun people right now are saying now is not the time to talk about gun control. And even if your argument is that he was not mentally ill and that “we can’t possibly know if he was,” then right now is exactly the time for you to express that (and oh look, you did).

    But you know what I’m seeing right now? People proclaiming that the man was Evil, capital E. Is that productive, to simply claim that he was a bad person like those folks in the movies who are solely motivated by being Bad? To wave that off, if he was mentally ill, or needed mental health support? He may not have been bipolar or a sociopath or a schizophrenic, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t need mental health support, and that mental health issues are something that we sweep under the rug in this country.

    And to be frank, I don’t see ANYBODY saying that all mentally ill people are dangerous, or that they’re the problem, or that they’re the only ones that commit violence.

    And if they are, you should be talking right now, because the Big problem in this country is that when tragedy strikes, it’s “not the time” for us to have the hard conversations, and that needs to change.

    1. 9.1

      The options aren’t that he was either Evil or else he was Crazy. We don’t actually have to know anything about his motivations, which is good because we DON’T know anything about his motivations.

        1. Yes, you’re right.
          But keep in mind that “I don’t know” isn’t an end–its a starting point.

          Going off topic just for a moment, how familiar are you with the concept of narrative control?

      1. I didn’t assume either of those. When I heard it was the school at which his mother worked and that she was one of the victims I thought it may have been anger, issues with his mother, and perhaps jealousy (of the children she spends time with every day) but since he killed himself as well as his mother, we’re unlikely to know if any of that is true…unless his brother can shed some light on his thoughts.

        1. Your post is unintentionally an illustration of how difficult it is to armchair diagnose, since it has now been revealed that his mother had nothing to do with the school, she was not a teacher there.

      2. I’m sorry, but yes, those are the only two options. There is no rational motivation for this act, and there is no ethical one, either. The only third option would be both evil and crazy.

    2. 9.2

      I gotta go with Jaydb on this one. I am disheartened to see so many people blaming ‘evil’. Our actions are the result of our hardware and software. Whether the failure to act reasonably can be traced to a genetic issue or an environmental issue, there is no ‘ghost in the machine’, no rational actor who chooses evil over good. Thus, all horrifically bad choices are by definition a failure to think well, to see clearly. The shooter may or may not have a glioblastoma pressing against his amygdala (like UT Tower shooter Charles Whitman), but he had a failure to think rationally for some reason, and that reason was not that he was inherently ‘evil’.

    3. 9.4

      Its as if the blogger is redirecting readers from one approach altogether in favor of another certain narrative.

      We should be careful about finding fault in this, though. Effective communicators in virtually all spheres of thought and discussion are adept at the game of “Traffic Cop”. Besides, somebody has to decide where to send the trains and who better to do this on a blog that the blogger, herself.

  5. 10

    Thank you so much for this post.

    As someone who deals with her own mental illnesses (as best I can), I’m tired of two things. First, I feel like every time I’ve turned around the last few weeks, there’s been another shooting. Second, and more important, I’m sickened by the insistence that this guy “must have been some kind of nut”. I don’t doubt he had some serious issues, his issues may have played a part in this shooting, but there is quite obviously MORE to this shooting than one man’s mental health issues.

    1. 10.1

      I’m sorry, but this isn’t obvious at all. Sure, he used a gun, and a scary looking “tactical” one (nevermind that a hunting rifle with a large magazine would have been just as effective) but he could have used a bomb if guns had been denied him somehow. Look at Timothy McVeigh. Any one of us in this day and age has the opportunity to create our own personal catastrophes if we choose to. You could set and orphanage on fire. You could create a toxic cloud at the supermarket using chemicals in the cleaning aisle. If you want to talk about cultural factors, the media hype cycle, the prevalence of violent imagery in our “entertainment”, the social isolation our passive, consumption based lifestyles encourage, the fetishization of material wealth and the stigma brought on by the lack of it, then fine, those are complicating factors. But they’re present for all of us. Only a very few, nevertheless, go on sickening rampages. Those few clearly have something the fuck wrong with them.

        1. Possibly. But I’d wager quite a lot that in the case of these school shootings, if our null hypothesis is “school shooters are not mentally ill” then p<.05. Unfortunately, post-mortem psychology is a non-existent science so we can't know for sure. If they aren't mentally ill, then what are they? Possessed by demons?

    2. 10.2

      Absolutely correct!!
      We must NOT re-stigmatize mental illness, and make society as a whole fear people with a mental illness. We must NOT re-stigmatize mental illness, so that people are afraid to seek help for themselves or someone they care for. [Availablity of mental health care is a whole different – and huge – issue, not being addressed here] For a very short time, we had made progress so that, in some urban centers, it was “fashionable” to say that one was in analysis.
      Stigmatizing menatl illness actually BLOCKS people from seeking the help they need.
      Stigma on mental illness does NOTHING to protect people – it simply forces problems to be shoved out of sight until they explode.
      Many years ago I was a teacher of young children. At the time, I was quite shy, timid and uncomfortable in most social situations. I wanted to overcome my shyness. I needed help to change. But I dared not seek help. Why? Because the teacher licensing laws, where I taught, were specific: Anyone who sought counseling with a mental health professional of any sort (therapist, or psychiatrist, whatever) – even once, for ANY reason, would be automatically disqualified from teaching.
      . . . Result – if you knew you needed counseling (even if your problem – like mine – posed NO danger whatsoever to the children in your care) , and wanted to seek help. . . you would be barred from teaching; but
      . . . if someone was having major problems (like hallucinations, hearing voices, etc.) but did NOT seek help . . .they could remain in the classroom.
      . . . Was that law, based on stigma (ignorance) actually protecting children from unstable teachers? No. It was forcing stable teachers to continue living with treatable problems, and was preventing unstable teachers from obtaining the help they needed.

  6. 11

    No, I will be talking about mental illness and it’s relationship to violence. We don’t know this shooter’s mental state. But we know James Holmes was schizophrenic, and we know that Jared Loughner was schizophrenic. And we know the facts from Treatment Advocacy Center’s preventable tragedies database: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/problem/preventable-tragedies-database

    And I will be talking about it today because I know that it may be politically unrealistic to ban all the guns I too would like to ban. But it may be politically realistic to get that background check system and our mental healthcare system good enough so that at least gun tragedies due our crazily allowing easy access to guns by people with or coming down with schizophrenia are much rarer. And then maybe I won’t have to read about gun nuts who want to shoot people like my beloved schizophrenic uncle and give them the death penalty.

    I do appreciate your points, and I urge you to speak your mind on this far and wide, but I won’t be silent on this relationship, and if the gun lobby does something serious about mental healthcare, I will welcome it and not let the perfect be the enemy of the better.

    1. LMR

      ABSOLUTELY! Talking about mental illness in this situation is to RAISE AWARENESS on the whole! When will we learn?? I do agree that we need, as a society, to shift the way we think about this subject, however timing is everything. Right now, the ultimate tragic side of mental illness is front and center. Everyone across the world is reading, watching and talking about what happened in CT. No, we don’t know what his issues were, but we can use this as a platform to get people involved. And we should. As you stated, Effie, the others mental state has been confirmed. I’m not going to get into a pissing match as to whether the circumstances of the most current tragedy directly correlates to the cause — it’s futile. When you have something so far reaching as what happened in CT, it’s completely ridiculous not to use its momentum for the greater good.

  7. 12

    Thank you. This shit is making me want to cry on top of the fact that KINDERGARTNERS. Why KINDERGARTNERS.

    Hazazel- because murdering 20 children is something you’d expect from a schizophrenic person, amirite? Or a “not sane” person?

    1. 12.1

      I’m sorry if I caused you distress. English is not my first language and I had not realized sane/insane were such loaded words.

      As I later explained I was refering to the lack of empathy and compassion when I said something was wrong with the murderer.

  8. IJ

    Thank you for this Ms Donovan. I wish people would recognise that instantaneous presumptions are often a self-serving attempt to collectively absolve responsibility for horrors; it relegates the horror to some category that is presumed to be small and extraordinary. There is no desire to understand there, in my mind, but merely distance.

    Those with mental health issues didn’t uniquely control which concepts and values received primacy in society. Those with mental health issues aren’t uniquely responsible for creating a social structure wherein it’s acceptable for lives to be assigned worth in a callous and mechanical manner each moment of the day. There is so much wrong that enables or encourages atrocities, whether obvious ones such as this or the unnoticed ones that take place constantly, but those with mental health issues were not and are not the overwhelming force behind creating and sustaining them.

    It’s so lamentable because I worry that speculation about mental health will only yield recklessly uninformed policies, thus will only yield more victims of shootings and more victims of discrimination or hatred. It simply makes already powerless groups more powerless.

    (Sorry for simply reiterating a mediocre fraction of your insights Ms Donovan. Your writing was just so touching that I couldn’t resist, misunderstandings of mental health are things I’ve been dealing with my whole life via my mother,myself, reading, and volunteering.)

  9. 14

    Kate, it’s a good thing you posted this as soon as you did. I completely agree that it’s so unfortunate that society refuses to acknowledge the pandemic of mental illness…until it has an effect like this! And yet isn’t interested in truly discussing the prevalence and realistic solutions to addressing, accepting and treating it.
    Instead deplorable socially accepted practices such as to alienate, stigmatize and denigrate those most in need of help is the rule…not the exception.
    As a sufferer and one afflicted, when situations such as the Newton CT tragedy happen, the barrage of “kill the sick bastard” commentary from a seemingly endless population whom have suddenly become psychiatric experts. And have no clue….Yeah, I refuse to engage in intimate relationships and divulge my “condition” to all but a select few because they can’t resist the urge to scape-goat when problems happen or simply ignore the condition…until the condition affects some aspect of my life; then they resort to the previous.
    Yes, somehow mental illness or disorders are equated with “faulty” or “less than” human. And if you’re respected, the idea that you’re “less than the status quo’s definition of “normal” is UNTHINKABLE!
    If the same funding, social resource allocation and advertising were given to mental illness as financial training or tech and trade/ commerce development, situations like this would never happen.
    How peculiar and tragic that our society romanticizes and even glorifies mental illness…until atrocities happen, then they vilify it.
    On behalf of one of the “less than normal”; thank you for addressing this!

  10. 15

    I remember when I read about the Virginia Tech massacre, I was distraught trying to understand his motivations until I thought “he must have been crazy”; then I calmed down some, because I had an easy answer.

    “The shooter was crazy” isn’t a diagnosis, it’s a cheap excuse to stop thinking about a horrible tragedy.

  11. 16

    I am personally guilty of this kind of conclusion-jumping. Thank you for calling everyone like me out on this; I promise I’ll try to do better in the future.

  12. 17

    I personally suffer from a mental illness. I have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), which basically means I worry about everything, and when I have nothing to worry about, I worry about the fact I have nothing to worry about. I take an SSRI and it helps a lot, and it makes me feel normal, which is awesome. This is not the worst mental illness; some people have much worse ones they have to deal with. I am also lucky that I have found a drug that works well without a whole lot of side effects. But I try to open about it with anyone and everyone. This is because I believe that if I talk about it, this will help to get everyone talking about it.

    A mental health issue is just another health issue. So why don’t we just talk about it? It is because there is this social stigma surrounding it. There are some that actually believe that if you have depression that you are just feeling a bit sad and that you need to look at the bright side and get over yourself. This is not the case. With my GAD, everything in my life was going great, I was engaged to a great guy, finishing up my PhD and about to buy a house. But I still felt terrible. It was the incessant gnawing feeling of worry in the pit of my stomach, I didn’t want to live like that, and in fact I wanted to die. This was when I finally decided that maybe I should see a doctor about getting a drug to treat this. I had tried talk therapy, mediation, exercise, cutting out caffeinated beverages, massage, you name it nothing helped. I believed that it was MY brain, I should be able to reason my through this, I should be in control. But I wasn’t, I was anxious, I didn’t know why, in fact there wasn’t a reason, and it was ruining my life. This was because there was something wrong in my brain, if it was my left arm or my stomach, I would have seen a doctor ages ago. But because it was my brain, I was reluctant to admit I might be “crazy”. But now I just take a little white pill every morning and everything is great inside my head and out.

    So this is why I talk about my mental health problems. It is OK to admit you need help. And maybe as a society if we were more accepting of mental illness in general, more people would talk about it, more people would get help, and less people would suffer in silence, and more tragedy’s would be prevented. Tragedy’s like people taking their own lives, or the lives of others.

    When it comes to tragedies like these mass shootings, we do have a tendency to assume that mental illness was involved. After all, why would a “normal” person do such a thing? But even if the perpetrator was mentally ill, don’t we have to admit that if we didn’t attach such a stigma to mental illness as a society that this person may have been more willing to seek help, rather than do what they did?

    Actually if the shooter was “crazy” or not, is irrelevant. It is impossible to shoot people if you can’t get a gun, “crazy” or “normal”. To blame the “crazy” is another case of making it all about “us and them”. There is no “us and them”, there is only US. “Crazy” could happen to any one of us, a chemical imbalance or a brain tumour is all it would take.

  13. 18

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I think there is a big problem with it. You assuming by saying that the shooter had a mental illness, people will think that all people with mental illness are dangerous. I don’t see that connection. The simple fact of the matter is that a mentally healthy person doesn’t go on shooting spree. I agree that it’s completely futile and pointless to try to diagnose this person now. People who are trying to do this are wrong. People who try to attribute it do a certain illness are wrong.

    But to not talk about it is to imply that this act is something mentally healthy people are capable of, and that is even wronger. There is one thing we can be certain of: he was not mentally well.

    That doesn’t mean anything beyond this circumstance. It doesn’t ‘blame’ mental illness. It doesn’t mean that other mentally ill people are dangerous to others. You point out very well that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence.

    If we are to address mental illness effectively, we can’t view it in the way you’re suggesting. We must boldly address all of it, especially the really uncomfortable parts.

    I’m not using my own name is this post because I’ve been there. I was treated in a mental health hospital while dealing with suicidal thoughts. While those are no longer an issue, maintaining my mental health continues to be a difficulty. The thought of harming someone else is abhorrent to me, and never once has entered my mind. I don’t have a problem saying the shooter was mentally ill. That doesn’t say anything about me or anyone else with mental health issues.

    I think you and I agree that the way we treat mental health is society is really wrong. We need to do more. We can’t do that by ignoring the bad parts. The fact that some mentally ill people harm others only adds to all the other reasons we have to addressing these issues.

    When it comes to gun control, I hold the liberal stance, but if it comes down to addressing gun control or mental health, I know which one I’m going to choose. If I find an ally in the gun lobby in pushing for better mental health policy, I’m okay with that. I will trade the gun issue away in a microsecond for better mental health treatment availability.

    If that makes me a ‘problem,’ I’m okay with that too. I refuse to let the narrative imply that the shooter was mentally healthy. That is a lie civilized people should not tell themselves.

    1. 18.1

      But to not talk about it is to imply that this act is something mentally healthy people are capable of, and that is even wronger.

      Breivik was by all accounts quite sane. Deluded, terribly terribly wrong, but quite sane.

        1. And when you look at Wikipedia, you see that he was diagnosed with NPD after people objected to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. They’re really not particularly similar. I see diagnosis shopping. When the push is there to diagnose some kind of mental disorder (personality disorders are not exactly mental illness, by the way), and then diagnoses are delivered until one sticks, it’s pretty hard to use that as evidence that there is always a mental illness in these cases. What evidence we have is that there is pressure to find mental illness in these cases.

          1. So are you arguing that these acts can be performed by mentally healthy people? I have yet to see a definition of mental health that would be compatible with this.

            You can call it diagnosis shopping. I’m fine with there not being a specific diagnosis (and for the shooter today, such a diagnosis is impossible, as pointed out in the original post), but I strenuously object to that meaning they were mentally healthy.

            The field of mental health is still relatively young. It’s still developing. We don’t have diagnosis for everything. We don’t have explanations or treatments for everything. That doesn’t mean that someone not fitting in those boxes is healthy. All it means is that we still have more to learn.

            What I would really like to see is a definition of what it means to be ‘mentally healthy’ that is compatible with someone going out on a shooting spree. I’m very skeptical that such a definition exists.

          2. Whaa. You don’t want to believe. When did you get a life in which the world marches in step to your tune?

            People fight pointless wars. People mutilate their kids’ genitals. People tell others they’re going to hell. None of these require that the people themselves be “mentally unhealthy”. They only require that these people be embedded in cultures that are deeply, badly wrong. You can call the culture “unhealthy” if you want. I would likely even agree with you. But calling the people in it mentally ill would be pointless, wrong, and insulting.

            There are, in fact, pieces of our culture here in the U.S. that are very badly wrong. One of those parts is our gun culture, but there are others that frequently come into play in mass murders. Think Oklahoma City. Think shootings in high-pressure workplaces.

            Just think.

          3. What does ‘not mentally healthy mean’ if not ‘mentally ill’? That’s what ‘mental illness’ is: not mentally healthy. What am I missing? Are you arguing that there is something else: Mentally health, not mentally health, and mentally ill? I don’t see the difference between those last two.

            Re-reading your reply, it seems that you are trying to say that this incident is a product of the gun culture here in the US. Is this right? I don’t want to mistake your meaning. If not gun culture, is there some other culture you’re pointing to? Or are you just trying to make a general argument against what I’m saying?

            Whatever the case, it doesn’t change this: if you are going to claim that the shooter today was not mentally ill, this implies that he was mentally healthy. I want to see a description of mental health compatible with this.

            Whaa. You don’t want to believe. When did you get a life in which the world marches in step to your tune?

            That’s a serious accusation to a fellow skeptic. I’m willing to be convinced. I just having seen anything convincing, and I’m skeptical that it exists. If you don’t want to take the time to convince me, that’s fine. It’s not your responsibility. But if you’re going to insult me by claiming that I’m unwilling to change my mind, I’m not going to bother to engage any more. These kind of statements from you are completely pointless at everything except revealing something about yourself.

          4. Whatever the case, it doesn’t change this: if you are going to claim that the shooter today was not mentally ill, this implies that he was mentally healthy. I want to see a description of mental health compatible with this.

            You’ve got one. It’s right there in my last comment. A person who is embedded in and adapted to an unhealthy culture is not mentally ill, even if that person does the unhealthy things that are part of this culture.

          5. Yeah, Stephanie’s point is important. As diagnosis stands, there is a clear and explicit expression for cultural norms. For instance, if a culture feels that hearing things in communcation from the dead or spirits is normal, the way in which ‘bad’ hallucinations are operationalized is very different. Which is to say, context of society is important, and diagnosis and definitions recognize that.

          6. Not My Name, what you seem to be arguing for amounts to a no true scotsman fallacy. The second a person commits a major crime, they no longer qualify as mentally healthy; therefore all major crimes are committed by mentally ill people == no mentally healthy people have ever committed a major crime.

            No. That is wrong. We need to have broad (i.e. at a political level rather than as some voices on a blog) acknowledgement of the simple truth that people are shaped by their social environment, and that a toxic environment leads to this bullshit even amongst the ‘mentally healthy’, however that may be defined.

    2. 18.2

      But to not talk about it is to imply that this act is something mentally healthy people are capable of, and that is even wronger. There is one thing we can be certain of: he was not mentally well.

      That’s circular. He must not have been mentally healthy because he did this, and he did this because he was mentally unhealthy. You’re using “mentally healthy” as a synonym for “incapable of shooting up an elementary school.” That doesn’t help us understand him, or the event, any better. It’s just a soothing tautology.

      1. I see your point, but I disagree. I have never claimed that he did this *because* he was mentally ill. That is definitely not something I would claim. I have no idea why the shooter took the action he did, I don’t know if we’ll ever have any way of answering that question.

        1. I have never claimed that he did this *because* he was mentally ill.

          You said mentally healthy people are not capable of doing this. So mental illness must, in your view, have been a cause of his behaviour, if not necessarily the only cause.

    3. 18.3

      Do believe the entire Third Reich was mentally ill? All those thousands of people who perpetrated the Holocaust? How about every slave owner in the antebellum south? Every member of a lynch mob? The soldiers who committed the Mai Lai massacre? People who are mentally healthy can do evil things, it’s not unusual.

      1. As someone else pointed out, I was too sweeping in my statement. But we are not talking about any of those things you list, but an action of this individual. Are you going to claim that there was something cultural or societal going on that played a role in this? I don’t see ‘shooting up a school’ being acceptable behavior in any culture here in the US, nor any society. Was there some social pressure forcing him to take this action?

        Just like you can’t claim those things, I can’t claim that his actions were caused by a mental illness. Even if he had a severe mental illness, it wouldn’t directly follow that he would go on a shooting spree, because there are many people who have had a severe mental illness who haven’t done that (me among them).

        I’m not trying at all to say that his actions were caused by a mental illness, but what I will say is that it was likely a mental illness that enabled this type of action. The causes we can’t say. But there was something happening in his brain that thought of taking this action, and that part I would call a sickness.

        1. …there’s a difference between mental illness and being very, very, wrong.

          Most people who believe that immigrants are a scourge on the country are not mentally ill, they’re just very wrong (and not terribly nice people, besides). One guy like that in Norway (Anders Breivik) shot a bunch of people he disagreed with. He wasn’t mentally ill, he was just very very wrong.

          No, it’s not acceptable behavior in our culture. Deviant behavior does not automatically mean mental illness no matter how obvious and sensible the norm is. You can shoplift without being mentally ill; you can rob banks without being mentally ill; you can even kill someone, or a few someones, and not be mentally ill. Why is the line here? What makes this different?

    4. 18.4

      One problem is, mental health and mental illness are mental and semantic constructs. They only have meaning relative to their context. So to build on Stephanie’s point, genital mutilation is not an act of violence in some cultures, but in US culture a person who believed strongly in it, and engaged in would be labeled “insane.” Yet, attributing the apparent “insanity” of genetic mutilation to mental illness is incorrect because it doesn’t stem from the health or lack of health of any one individual, but to that of the culture that normalizes it. Similarly, in the US, our culture normalizes all sorts of things that play into the frequency of mass shootings, not the least of which is our virtual obsession with guns, the glorification of violence (been to a movie or played a video game lately?), our propensity for stigmatizing that which is outside the “norm” – thus relegating mental health care funding to a rung lower, even, than prison funding, etc. It would almost be nice if all these mass shootings could be explained simply by the mental illness of each single perpetrator. But it’s just not that simple.

    5. oi

      I think the real conversation here is how we polarize the terms ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. What you mean, surely, when you say ‘healthy’, is a person who wouldn’t shoot 20 children with a machine gun. What the word ‘healthy’ means to other people within your speech is anything from ‘not medically diagnosed with a mental disorder’ to ‘not fat’. Do you see the issue here?

      The ‘normal’ is a mathematical construct, and belongs in a statistics course, not in reality.

  14. 19

    Yes, seems “mental health” can be used to explain this very human behavior. If Satan or the devil are not available to “blame” for these deaths then “mental health” can be an excuse. Perhaps some few Mentally Ill people are capable of killing like this.
    However, the violent killing of defenseless people, children especially, is done by people considered normal and mentally healthy every day worldwide. The military of some countries encourages their troops to kill defenseless civilians.
    Seems normal healthy humans are more than capable of creating these sort of tragedies.

  15. 20

    Ooooh, no, I’m not going to let you say that on a psych student’s post. It is NOT a mental illness. It is a symptom of some. Also, where exactly are you getting that anyone was delusional? Separate of culture or ideology, of course, because I’m sure you know that’s considered an exception for the DSM.

      1. Sorry, as I mentioned in my second reply to that comment, I replied too quickly and without looking up what I was talking about. You’re right. i should have said ‘delusion’ was a symptom of mental illness. Is it every true that delusion is present without mental illness? In either case, it was a stupid thing for me to say, because I didn’t need to. Breivik was diagnosed with a mental disorder. The idea that he was mentally healthy is simply not true.

          1. Perhaps we have different definitions of what ‘mentally healthy’ and ‘mentally ill’ mean. I mean, most people are not perfectly mentally healthy. It’s pretty rare. It can be minor. It might not effect your life in a magnitude that requires treatment. I would say that the delusions of religious are, for the most part, kind of like that.

            Mental health is not binary. To treat it as such is wrong. We all have our little issues. Mental health is complicated.

            Not being mentally healthy is not the same as having a diagnosis. A diagnosis is a very big thing. Saying someone is ‘mentally ill’ is not saying ‘someone has a disease that is described is the diagnostic and statistical manual’. All it means is that they are not mentally healthy.

          2. Pardon me for having a nuanced and thought out position on this that I’m passionate about. Pardon me for trying to persuade others of that position. Wait, isn’t that what freethoughtblogs is all about?

            Normal-type is not ‘mentally healthy’. holding on to beliefs in spite being face with evidence to the contrary is not mentally healthy. It doesn’t mean that you need treatment or a diagnosis. It certainly doesn’t mean that you’re going to go on a shooting spree.

            Let me bring this back to my point: denying that the shooter in this instance was not mentally ill is implying that he was mentally healthy. That is very, very wrong. I don’t think that is splitting hairs. If you think I’m splitting hairs talking about normal every-day delusions, you’re right. I am. It’s nuanced and difficult, and I’m not completely sure of it myself. My apologies.

          3. I didn’t imply that he is/was “mentally healthy”. I was pointing out the fact that there are people who, while being quite delusional, are also well within the range of what we would consider “mentally healthy”, thereby negating your claim that delusions are always a symptom of mental illness.

            You’re the one treating mental health as a binary state, where either you’re “healthy” or you’re “ill”.

          4. I have been careless with my words. Part of what’s going on here is the stigma associate with the idea of being ‘mentally ill.’ I’m not talking about the shooter, but in the general sense for everyone. Just like with physical health, there is a spectrum of severity. A person who has the sniffles, or a paper-cut is not perfectly healthy, but they’re much more healthier than someone with cancer, or ebola. Even within specifically maladies, there is variance of severity.

            The general point I was trying to make is that mental health is similar to this. All delusions might be a kind of mental ill (though I could be wrong), and some delusions are minor (e.g. the cubs will win the world series) like a paper cut, though other are quite serious. The analogy does break down I admit, and I’m not a trained mental health professional, so what do I know anyway?

            I can also see how this approach makes the stance ‘mentally ill’ seem rather meaningless. if it just means ‘not perfectly mentally healthy’ then all of us are mentally ill to some degree. But we don’t have this problem with physical health. When someone dies of a physical illness, we don’t assume it’s due to papercuts (sidenote, yes I know this is possible, I’m just using it as an example). We know there is a certain degree of severity required of an illness in order for death to be an outcome.

            Just like we know that depression doesn’t always lead to suicide (and is actually rare), and suicide has other causes besides depression.

            In this specific case, we can say something similar. Normal-type people don’t shoot up schools. We don’t know what his illness was, but we can be pretty sure that he had something seriously wrong with his head. We shouldn’t ignore that.

  16. j

    i agree on the assumption, but isn’t that the catch 22? if it isn’t done now, then when? the stigma is already there. ignoring and allowing for people to feel isolated has led to tragedies like these in the past. if mental reform happens and the view on it were different from that, then society may be able to support individuals who need care, as well as their loved ones who are affected by the stigma and don’t seek the help. maybe raising awareness for it’s importance should have been done after the batman shooting, instead of just saying this guy went crazy. yes it will support the stigma that is already there, but if it can change the future care of individuals in need of support, that will in turn possibly change societal’s look on mental health, then i think it needs to be a realization of what is more important. either way, mental health reform has and is not on the table. this guy needed someone to talk to, and for whatever reason was pushed him over the edge and didn’t get help either because of the lack of resources or the stigma in society or his own community. either way the push for reform is not happening. gun control is what’s happening.

    1. 21.1

      My understanding of Kate’s message, and she can correct me on this, is that having a discussion about mental health, based on this single event, will frame mental health issues around mass murder. Mental health needs to be framed as a health issue, not as a public safety issue. The mental health issue should be defined as helping people live productive fulfilling lives, not as protecting “us” (a group that defines itself as perfectly sane) from spree killers.

        1. j

          i understand this but i am sure america would not care to support this. they haven’t so far. hence people falling through the cracks, those with mental illness, homeless, etc.

  17. Pat

    I still say he may have had a mental illness, but unfortunately as a society it carries a stigma. We are too quick to close the mental hospitals. How many parents have said they knew something was wrong but couldn’t get the help they need. I am an ER nurse and I see this all the time. Social workers say patient can go home. Family is upset because they can’t deal with it anymore. The big problem is they triage the patients because beds are so short. I have sent home patients that I have felt very uncomfortable sending home. Recently, a hospital in PA let a patient walk out who clearly needed help and she walked into the road in front of a truck. This is not the only time this has happened. I have worked ER for 24 years and have seen the changes in mental health care and I think it is deplorable.
    So now we need to look at mental health, acknowledge it, and deal with it. Not brush it under the rug.
    I hate guns, but I am not for gun control. I believe people should be allowed to own weapons to protect themselves and they have training with them.
    I say bring prayer, pledge of allegiance back into the schools. Treat mental illness as a disease like any other disease and not with stigmas attached. And don’t blame gun control or lack of it.

    1. 23.2

      I like prayer too, Pat. But we’re visiting an atheist/freethought blogsite.

      I want you to answer a question for me honestly, please. Whatever you say, I promise not to snark you. It regards your comment:

      I say bring prayer, pledge of allegiance back into the schools.

      Was this a sentence that you just HAD to get in? OR . . . Did you write the entire comment as a vehicle to deliver this line?

      OK, I’ll give you a third option; reluctantly: Maybe you were just being yourself and casually telling people how you felt–and then this sentence popped out and you didn’t experience the slightest sensation that anything was odd about it.

      When you suggest bringing back school prayer to atheists, you’re essentially kicking off the God argument. Is this an appropriate time and place for that?

  18. 24

    “An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality,…”
    or, not going with the evidence presented to you or that is readily available.
    “A false idea or belief: “he had no illusions about her”.”
    Seems we all harbor delusions to some degree. Mentally ill folks are sometimes guided by and react to extreme delusions, thus creating problems, major problems and worse. But, normal, healthy people are more than capable of creating just as much or more tragic suffering. To wit: military killing of children and defenseless civilians. Where a particularly “brave” trooper get a medal for killing the defensless.

  19. j

    how about reforming education, teaching children how to be strong, capable individuals in our society and learn how to self regulate. and reform mental health to help those adults who suffer from mental illness as well as those who just did no get the proper education or upbringing.

    gun control is all the talk now. i am for gun control. but there are bigger issues in our society that need attention.

  20. 26

    I wrote the following, just a little earlier today, in response to the stabbing of 27 children in a school in china. An unbelievable coincidence of violence and shared targets..

    We are an extremely complex life form with a vast array of differences in the way we are constructed. And we don’t all come out perfect. There are more people born disfigured, physically challenged or mentally misaligned then there are people born left handed or red headed. And if we really were a loving, caring, socially accepting species, those people who suffer with a mental illness would be cared for, respected and nurtured by everyone and would, very likely, never have a need or opportunity to do a thing like this.

    Now, in truth, you make a very valid point but there is always the expectation of a normative behavior to rule out mental illness and there is also the broadly held belief that mental illness is or stems from a long term, pathological or neurological disorder. Not so. My mental state can be made “ill” if I drink too much, have a fever or am under undue stress.

    If, to quote the Bard (free form) my whole world goes to shit and I am nothing but a quivering bag of seathing anger and vengeful thoughts…and if, in that state, I get it into my head to do violence then I am likely going to do a great deal of violence. The extent and depth of the violence will, from that point on, depend solely upon what weapon I have at the ready or can easily attain.

    And if I’ve had some training… all the better.

  21. 28

    I’ll grant that no, we don’t know the general mental state of the man. But as a determinist, I maintain the following distinctions: Killing a bunch of people for no sensible reason is a crazy act. If you perform a crazy act, at least during that act, you are crazy. I do not define crazy as mentally ill. Crazy is believing something that, obviously harmful by any rational measure, isn’t. Being mentally ill may contribute to doing something crazy, but only so far as it makes you vulnerable to the wrong ideas leading to crazy.

    We also don’t know if he would have killed as many if his gun were not an assault* rifle. (It’s just a rifle designed to look more military, as far as most people use them. That it added to the terror of his victims because of such a design is probable, but unknown.)
    We also don’t know if concealed carry would have helped him carry out this attack.

    We do know that our national obsession with guns makes otherwise normal people gun crazy.
    We do know the NRA and the gun manufacturers backing them (or maybe it’s all gun-crazy people, I don’t know,) promote this “you need an assault rifle in your house just in case” gun craziness.
    We do know there is not a good reason to make bullets so much better at killing people (sorry, no reason for armor-penetrating or hollow point bullets for that deer.)
    We do know, something is very wrong when somebody decides they want to kill a bunch of people.
    We do know that if such a person has a gun, it makes that task easier.
    We do know that the technology exists to have a bullet registry on the scale of the new Pseudophedrine registry. We also have the ability to connect this to and expand the existing gun registry.

    We have a pretty good idea that the same people crying out that the gun registry is impinging their rights is both gun crazy, and not very smart:
    We have a right to form a well-armed militia. A well-armed militia is trained how to safely use their weapons. Which weapons they are allowed to use, how, and when they are allowed to use those weapons is strictly controlled. The members of that militia is known to the community to whose scrutiny they are subject. They are regularly retrained and tested for fitness within the militia. If they do not qualify, *take away their guns, they are probably dangerous.*

    There are a lot of crazy people in the world. Would the event of these crazy people enforcing their crazy with guns be a tragedy? Certainly. Do more people in the US think guns are an OK way to enforce their crazy ideas than anywhere else? Clearly. Is this because we allow the talking heads convince us that owning or having a gun is a good way to not get shot? Definitely.

    We don’t need a gun ban, we need a change of our gun culture. An example: I had a coworker in my gun-crazy state tell me with a straight face that when he goes hunting in the area, he carries a side-arm in case he encounters any smugglers. Like having a pistol makes you suddenly bulletproof or not outgunned by several rifles.

  22. 29

    Excellent post.

    I’m a law clerk at my law school in the Criminal Defense Litigation Clinic, as my focus is in criminal litigation. What I find more troubling than the actual crimes committed by our clients, many heinous, is that many of them do in fact suffer from and have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. One of our clients is a diagnosed 70 year old paranoid schizophrenic. She stabbed her dentist at his office with a ballpoint pen because she believed he, Obama, and the Catholic church were conspiring against her in a secret organization called the “Raheem.” This woman is Phi Beta Kappa, has a PhD from Northwestern, MA from Loyola, and a BA from Notre Dame. So what happened? Among other things, she couldn’t afford her medication any longer and the state was unwilling to help or subsidize her, so, eventually, she lost control. What is the state doing? Trying to put her in a normal jail that will not provide her the essential medical help she needs. Why? Because the state doesn’t have the monetary resources to hire any more mental health personnel and those institutions that might be able to help are at capacity. Much of my time is spent working with these people, reading the DSM, and trying to find viable legal defenses for treatment options in lieu of standard incarceration. Because so many people have erroneously attempted to plead insanity, that defense is rarely granted, even to those that actually deserve it.

    Here’s a thought Illinois: instead of spending $1 million (ONE MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS) on front license plates, how about stuff that actually matters.

    1. Ess

      um.. breach of confidentiality much? as a clerk, i would hope you would understand that what you have just described is a very specific situation, which could easily be pinpointed to the client in question, even though you have not included her name. you should be more careful with what you discuss, especially on the internet.

      1. Try to pinpoint it. AND there was no breach of confidentiality because even if you could find who I’m talking about (WHICH YOU CAN’T), everything I stated is official legal public record.

        So there. I’m good at what I do and I would never jeopardize my profession with such negligence as you are alluding to.

  23. JW

    You are certainly right that we should approach this discussion in a dignified and, indeed, discreet way, so as to not cause undue harm to the mentally ill, and to treat them with respect. Because it is indeed morally wrong to perpetrate the assumption that all such individuals are potentially homicidal.

    But I disagree with you, in principle:

    If he was not mentally ill, then what is the alternative? Was he “sinful?” Acting against God by his own Free Will? Evil? Any other such abstract, quasi-religious cause of badness formerly used to explain behavior?

    Either we believe in scientific phenomena controlling the world, and our own minds, or we do not.

    How can we explain sick actions with any other root cause than sickness? Perhaps the sickness is not well-understood. I certainly agree we should not pre-emptively label him as schizophrenic, or borderline, or with any other terminology from the DSM.

    But the reality is that he was sick, by definition. When a patient produces severely dangerous and debilitating symptoms, that means he is sick. His body was not sick, we know that much. Therefore, his mind was. We may not know with what illness, but he was mentally sick.

    So the conclusion of mental illness readily passes the test of “skepticism.” Again, I ask you, what is the alternative explanation? Are we really going to regress into believing in acute, unreconstructed, manifest evil as a motivator for actions, and not the basic physical processes that govern the operation of our minds and bodies?

    I am all for removing the stigma of mental illness. It’s the only way to reach a purely rational approach to the human mind. It’s the only way to simply admit that the brain is a physical organ and there is no mind/body dualism at work.

    But to get there, we must first make those assumptions ourselves, and internalize them. I simply refuse to yell “Evil!” in response to these actions.

    And blaming society is too much. You are right, guns should not be as readily available. But guns are an expedient, and in this case, we have no idea to what end they were used, other than pointless slaughter. No point could exist except in a sick mind. Certainly no rational grievances could have been addressed, or revenged, by this action.

    Finally, I disagree with two of your addenda.

    The first note says you would accept mental illness were he diagnosed. Surely you must know how difficult it is to accurately diagnose a specific condition in the first place; it often takes years and a cooperative patient. And, again, if we believe that our brains are basically physical, then we must rationally conclude that sick actions are the result of a sick — however acutely sick, or perhaps in an unknown way — brains.

    And stating that assuming mental illness is bad skepticism is false, for the reasons I just stated, and adding the basic “faith” of experience and expectations. The only faith on which we can rely. That is, that we know that normally functioning minds do not direct able bodies to do such things; therefore, those minds are diseased.

    Again, not judging, simply drawing a rational conclusion. As I hope you will do the same.

  24. 31

    asI try to step back from this just a little and look at what is going on in the aftermath. We love to react first. We are hurt and scared and we react, we reach out for reasons and fixes right now!
    Each with his own answer to why and how to fix things
    We want some easy for us answer something that will make us safe again and stop “them”.
    That is what I see almost like 9-11 and its aftermath just no one trying to demagog it yet.
    I want easy answers too I want this kind of thing not to happen again I want a lot of things but I get this feeling that there is no quick easy fix for any of it. No sure fire answer answer no single cause.

    uncle frogy

  25. nul

    I totally agree with you!

    When tragedies like this happen, people begin to blame stuff like mental illness and guns. It’s not that at all. Blaming mental illness just makes the issue worse (and stigmatizes those who innocently suffer). In fact, most mass shootings committed can be narrowed down to 3 factors (and the solution is NOT witch hunts). This opinion piece does a good job a summarizing the root cause and offering practical solutions:


  26. 34

    Thank you for this. I was thinking the shooter must have some mental illness. I was ‘othering’ him and contributing to MH stigma. Thank you for handing me a red pill, gladly taken.

  27. jon

    you are a film/MFA/communications type. you don’t know shit about psychology/psychiatry or the mental health profession. and having been in therapy for several years doesn’t count! you are great at spinning tales, but you dont KNOW shit! you may have played a psychologist in a play, but that doesn’t actually make you one.

    1. 36.1

      I am Kate Donovan, the author. I am a double major in psychology and psych services, who worked in a schizophrenia lab and the lab of an McArthur genius grant winner (Jen Richeson) and I am fairly certain that you, sir, do not know shit.

      1. amy

        i find it funny when psych majors think they have an authority. i have a degree in psych from a reputable university.. so what? i would never imply that my psych degree somehow makes me an authority of all things psych. how easy is it to get an undergraduate degree in psych nowadays? and how useless a degree is it, really? i enjoyed my time spent earning my psych degree, but I put the accomplishment on the same level as getting a degree in philosophy. it’s pretty much a pile of crap.

        1. Erm, except for the licensure process that results in being able to practice. Or, like, the research I participated in (cognitive adaptation training is pretty awesome and revolutionizing how we deal with cognitive deficits in people with schizophrenia.) Also, I’m less talking about having an authority in the comment you’re replying to, and more pointing out that I do NOT have a communications degree, I’m Kate, not Ashley, and I’m not spinning a damn tale.
          So, are you here to condescend, or were you here to contribute to the conversation in some way?

        2. But if a person has experience working in a filed that must have value? Of course psychology is really complicated stuff, but a person who really cares and is thoroughly involved in the topic should be listened to I think.

        3. But if a person has experience working in a field that must have value? Of course psychology is really complicated stuff, but a person who really cares and is thoroughly involved in the topic should be listened to I think.

  28. 37

    Well, just to set the record straight, it appears that Adam Lanza did not buy any of the weapons he used. They were registetred in his mother’s name, which raises questions about why ayone who knows that someone in his/her household may be a couple of cans shy of a six-pack would have firearms in the home at all, a mistake for which Lanza’s mother paid with her life. Oh well.

  29. 39

    I haven’t managed to make it through all the comments, so my apologies if I’m treading over old turf. I can only say that this subject is far too close to home for me to read the entire discussion, as I normally would before commenting.

    I understand your concern that those with mental illness not be stigmatized by the actions of a handful of lone gunmen. It is clearly not the case that everyone who has mental illness commits murder. That’s insane. However, it is almost certainly the case that appropriate medication could have stopped some of these mass killings– and the 100x more (15,000 v 150 people per year) murders of individuals or within families that don’t make the headlines.

    I thought the following two links were helpful in delving into the subtleties of these situations.



    Both of these links discuss the problem that honing in on a particular characteristic is unhelpful. Although many mass murderers do suffer from chronic depression, they are far outnumbered by chronic depressives who take no such actions. To prevent these incidents, we definitely need to reduce the stigma of mental illness so that men in pain can get help– effective help. But it seems to me that a kneejerk response that we shouldn’t talk about mental illness in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy is as short-sighted as one that says we cannot talk about guns.

    Finally, at some point today, I read a comment that although the levels of mental illness and murder vary in societies, the rate of murder-suicide is stable across cultures and societies. Although it is clearly the case that male entitlement leads to abuse and death in our society, this observation suggests that murder-suicide, even mass murder-suicide, is not driven by male chauvinism or other cultural constructs.

    My heart goes out to everyone who lost loved ones today, to the children who will not have a chance to grow up, to the parents and families who must come to terms with the senseless loss of their loved ones. That list includes the shooter’s father and brother.

      1. Kate, you could not be more right, and my agreement with you stems from 42 years of experience as a clinical psycholgist in both outpatient and closed, locked facilities. On top of that, many persons who are deemed to need psychotropic agents seem to prefer whatever they are experiencing when they are not medicated, to what they experience while medicated. We medicate them more because what they say they’re thinking/feeling disturbs US, than because it disturbs THEM, and they stop taking our potions because they don’t like the way they make them feel — dulling of cognition, blunting of libido and affect in general, dry mouth, weight gain, intense feelings of inner restlessness, and so on.

      2. Agreed. But so does ignoring the role of mental illness. I’d like to see a world in which mental and “physical” illness are treated the same. No, we can’t cure all cancer patients, but we can sure as hell cure some. Similarly, we can’t treat all mental illness, but we can treat some of it. We just need to understand that it’s not the patient’s fault if the treatment doesn’t work.

        I can’t say more about why I feel so strongly about this publicly, but feel free to e-mail.

  30. 40

    Thank you for this post. I referenced it in my blog. I hope that is ok. http://www.bipolarspirit.com/2012/12/blaming-mental-illness-for-tragedy.html

    I wrote about how detrimental it is to children with mental illness to have this message spread every time something horrific happens. I have had mental illness since I was a child and when things like this happen, the message you are sent is that you are a bad person, evil even, because only people like you do things as horrific as this. It is extremely terrifying and only makes your illness worse.

    There are about 4 million kids in America with mental illness and stigma like this is breaking their hearts.

    Thank you for speaking up!

    1. 40.1

      I and my four children all have mental illnesses. That doesn’t mean we share whatever the hell was wrong with that man but to play like we can’t know there WAS something very wrong with him is ludicrous.

      1. I didn’t say there was nothing wrong with him. There might be, but having something “wrong” does not automatically mean its mental illness. There are many people without mental illness who have committed terrible acts due to their belief system, not an illness.

    2. 40.2

      People are ignorant.

      This is WAY BEYOND mental illness. This is beyond evil. This is what you get when society is failing.

      This isn’t about the individual. It’s about all of us.

  31. 41

    Giving a fricking break. No human without mental illness would have done such a horrible thing to random CHILDREN. Would you or I under ANY circumstances? I don’t agree with armchair therapists with no idea what they are talking about but THIS is a extraordinarily monstrous.

    1. 41.1

      So what you’re saying is…
      He had mental illness because why else would he have killed all those children!
      He killed all those children because he had a mental illness!

      That’s a circular argument and it’s both terribly unskeptical and resoundingly boring.

        1. Then this is what I call it:
          lack of evidence, poor skepticism, refusing to delineate the difference between mental illness and committing violent acts, and leaping to conclusions.

          As I’ve said previously, there’s a statistical probability, in keeping with population norms, that he could have had SMI. However, when you choose to pick that as your explanation without actual evidence at hand…and yes, sane people do commit all sorts of atrocities….you’re causing all sorts of problems.

  32. 43

    People are quick to judge I totally agree.

    For me I look at it like this and this is what I told my child: this is a prime example of societies failings.

    That man was not shooting those kids. He merely used them as a weapon to take dead aim on our hearts. That type of crime is simply the worst one can commit in society. The lowest rung of rejects in prison all the way up to the richest big wig’s on wall street would all agree to how horrible of a crime this is. It is unmatched and unparalleled to anything one person can do.

    That man (without even knowing it probably) wanted SOCIETY to feel the wrath of his revenge. He wanted us ALL to hurt in the same way that he felt societies misgivings have wronged him.

    Society fail. Downward we go . . . . morals and ethics go to trash. The family is being torn apart, our ideals and core foundation is being trashed. This is what you get as a result.

    Time to look in the mirror instead of quick judging this crazy lunatic. You and I are the reason those kids were killed, not the madman we sent to do it.

  33. 44

    When I wrote earlier that he must have been “wrong” and “not sane” I should have been more specific but I was mostly sad and confused at the time.

    I think what I meant was that he had his sense of empathy and compassion twisted beyond recognition.

    I see now that framing the tragedy as being the result of mental illness is dangerous.

  34. 45

    Very very good article, medias all over the world should read this and think on it >__>

    A thing I wanted to add though, telling thoses acts of violence “must” come from an insane person, with mental illness is also a way of denying that EVERYBODY can be a murderer, even the most “””sane””” white straight christian successful and rich man………….. Everybody can “snap” one day, take a gun and kill everyone around with no reason except it was just “too much this time”…
    And people don’t want to hear than… There MUST be an explaination… Simple if possible, easier to understand quickly, which makes sense and put a light on everything, like magic. To be able to sleep at night, thinking “it’s ok, it’s because he was schizo//video game’s addict//beaten by his father//bullied as a child//asperger (as it’s what that’s said on this one -_-)//gothic//metal listener//satanist (ok they mean that already by “gothic”… haha -_-)//muslim//not-white//not-christian//gay//etc etc … ”

    That’s a f*cking disaster….

  35. 47

    It’s a double edged sword, this whole mental illness thing. I say that as a person who is very open about my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome. And as a person with a Master’s degree in Psychology. On one hand, I cringe when I think about overcoming the stigma attached whenever something horrific like this happens. On the other hand, no one who commits such a terrible crime can possibly be in their right mind. Every single murderer that has ever lived, in my opinion, has been mentally ill – if not as a persistent diagnosis, at least in the moment they committed their crimes. Because no person in their right mind would do such a thing. But it’s not a syllogistic thing. Saying that all murderers are mentally ill does not mean that all mentally ill people could ever be capable of murder.

    The person with the ultimate responsibility for the shooting was definitely Adam Lanza. But that’s not to say that mental health reform (and gun control reform, and, and and…) couldn’t at least reduce the likelihood that someone else will make the same horrible decision as he did.

    1. 47.1

      See, but the evidence actually says otherwise. With an MA, I’m sure you’re familiar with Milgram and all the replications of that? The Stanford prison experiment? There’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that it’s not a bad apple in the barrel–it’s a barrel of vinegar.
      It’s nice and comforting to think that people who do horrible things couldn’t possibly be like us, but it’s simply not supported.

    1. 49.1

      They do? Really? Where? I don’t see anything that says what you claim. I see a psychiatrist writing at length about how adults and children can move forward after this tragedy. I see his personal wish at the end that the teacher and principal had been armed, but does that really equate to “Fox News solution: more guns!” Hardly. While I’m sure it was very satisfying for you to use this tragedy to once again bash Fox News, your hysterics simply don’t fit reality.

  36. 50

    How do we identify people before a psychotic break, how do we treat them, how do we safeguard both the society, and the individual? Most “normal people” do not realize how fragile their mental state really is. How do we heal our tragically broken culture?

  37. 51

    A couple of things.

    The term insane is not a medical one, it is a legal one. A person is considered insane if by virtue of a mental disorder they are were unable to tell right from wrong at the time of the alleged crime. It means that they are not held responsible for their actions.

    Secondly, one is not considered insane simply because one is mentally ill.

  38. 52

    I appreciate the opinion you’ve expressed, because everyone is entitled to one, but pretty much disagree with you entirely. How can you say talking about mental illness at a time like this makes it harder for people to seek help? What exactly are you basing that on? Is there some statistic or research that you know of that shows support for mental health centers drops after mass killings?

    If people don’t talk about it, our elected officials won’t do anything to change the amount of funding they provide to the very programs that those suffering from mental illness need. True, we do not know exactly what Mr. Lanza may or may not have been suffering from. Maybe he had a proper diagnosis or maybe there isn’t one. Maybe he really did want to kill children. We will never know.

    I don’t see this as making mental illness the scapegoat, I see it as an opportunity for our society to come to terms with reality that we have friends, neighbors, and family members that need help and support and love when it seems they deserve it the least.

    1. 52.1

      It’s a bit telling, Angela, when the only time the country deigns to talk about mental illness is after someone’s gone and murdered a bunch of people. And when everyone turns around and goes, “well they must have been schizophrenic”, without any actual confirmation of this and without any professional diagnosis, that’s really difficult for people who actually suffer from these conditions. To have violence associated with you, suddenly, without reason. That’s scapegoating and that’s not helpful.

  39. 53

    Thank you so much for this post. The ramifications of blaming this incident on mental illness has bothered me since the first mention. It mitigates the responsibility of society, that values the right to own deadly weapons over the safety of our children. I’m sure. I’m sure we can assume that this person had a REALLY bad day, and that something had happened that led him to this choice, but that’s all we can assume unless, as you point out, we hear from a therapist or find some written evidence from the mind of the man. I can’t imagine what was going on in his head, but you are so right that we simply will never know.

    Thank you for putting into words thoughts that I haven’t been able to express.

  40. 54

    […] This post sums up my major objection pretty well. Adam Lanza’s mental health won’t be known. Not ever. There’s a lot of things we’d like him answer for–unclaimed Christmas presents and crying families and six year olds with cameras on them and reporters in their faces. We’d like to know why he did it. We want to know what was going on in that mind. There’s no explanation that will put this into perspective. Because, what kind of perspective could it be to understand what would drive you to kill children? But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy. Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know. You do not know his state of mind. When you decide to armchair quarterback him, to stamp him with an “obvious” diagnosis, do you know what you are saying? Here is a terrible thing. The only thing that could possibly cause someone to do such a terrible, tragic thing is to have This Disorder. Because only people with This Disorder could be so dangerous/awful/scary. If you would like to see the an increase in the usage of facts and information on the forum, join the Society for the Proliferation of Information. Now accepting members again. If you need anything factchecked (or if I suspended an earlier factcheck for my hiatus), send me a message. Relativity of Wrong Winning the conversation — Winning the conversation — It's a dog-eat-dog world Reply With Quote […]

  41. 55

    School homicides have fallen steadily over the past decades. Has the number of guns in America fallen? Of course not. Violent crimes in the nation’s schools (rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault have also fallen. These two trends follow along with the general population. Source: National Center for Education Statistics and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention

    1. 55.1

      Actually, this is the data that the NCES has for this. It goes back to 1992. It does show that the 00s were lower than the 90s, but two data points do not a trend make. Additionally, the data for this time period indicates increasing security at schools, so I’m not sure that outside trends have a whole lot to do with it.

      Finally, what the fuck does this have to do with talking about mental illness?

  42. 56

    I typed a long post that got eaten by my failure to log in first. The short of it is that a)there’s lot’s of different things with different causes that are lumped into ‘mental illness’ or ‘crazy,’ but have wildly different causes, effects, and treatments (autism is really nothing like anorexia, and it’s just as silly to put them together as the flu and skin cancer)
    b)pretty much all of the things defined as ‘mental illness’ are pretty much harmless to anyone but the sufferer
    c) A lot more people suffer or have suffered from one or more of these than most people realize or are willing to discuss
    d)Violent crime generally is a result of cultural illness, not mental illness. There are basically three types: Instrumental (mugging, gang wars, etc.), which are treatable economically for the most part. Cultural violence would be things like child abuse, rape, etc, and is really only treatable through changing the culture that tells people it’s ok or even positive behavior, although that definitely includes creating and enforcing strict laws against them. Finally, there’s the type we see here, which I tend to think of as ‘just snapped.’ The cause, as far as I can tell, is a perception of an intolerable world combined with a lack of visible options for fixing it. Note that this category of behavior is not limited to spree killings, or killings at all, but includes the general category of people previously perceived as ‘normal’ removing themselves from society in spectacular and often antisocial ways.
    This las one is not mental illness in any meaningful sens of the term, in the sense that anyone’s brain is malfunctioning; it’s just that the normal, natural reaction of the human brain to hopeless desperation is usually not terribly productive, and often quite destructive. The solution is a more humane society that includes fewer people mired in economic desperation, personal horror and/or untenable ideologies, trapped without options, help, or hope. While making such a society would definitely include reducing the number of weapons and armed people floating around, and also improved access to mental health care, but those are largely tangential to the major changes that would be required to actually fix the problems that result in these kinds of spree shootings.

    1. 56.1

      1st point. “mental illness”, “insane”, “sane” “and such are at best verbal shortcuts to describe certain kinds of human behavior. When we speak in such blanket terms as “so and so did something because he was (insert verbal shortcut here)” we gain NO useful information on why, or how such a thing was accomplished or what could be done to prevent it. Thus by having a debate on whether or not a person did something because of certain sociological or psychological factors is an exercise in futility, persons not trained in the proper diagnostic criteria for these catch all terms will pick them up and ape them in uniformed, banter that removes the possibility of talking of the actual functional factors that cause the undesired behavior to occur.

      2nd point
      even as they are defined ‘mental illnesses’ and such are not the ’cause of any behavior in of themselves good or bad. ‘mental illnesses’ and such being a verbal shortcut for certain diagnostic criteria does not inform us what biological, genetic, personal life history, or cultural and societal factors cause that cause ANY singele event to occur. At best the diagnosis of an ‘mental illness’ is a floating loose target used primarily to determine which suite of drugs/and or therapy the current medical establishment deems acceptable to try to treat a certain patient. It never at any point should be used to determine ‘why’ a person did a certain thing or action in any more sense than any other behavioral shortcut should be used as a ‘reason’ for why something occurs. saying that because someone was say killing someone because he was a criminal gives us no information to work with to solve the problem. neither does saying someone did anything because he did or did not have an ‘mental illness’

      What should be used to determine why someone did something? Simply put, only a study of the actual causal factors involved in the action should be involved, and nothing else. Medical and psychological diagnosis are not casual factors, they are stories we invent to lump people in easy groups of behavior. Personal medical history, actual accounts of behavior of the person, physical happenstances and such are all that are relevant to whether or not a person did any action. A single word or even any five, are not reasons causes or evidence of ANY sort

  43. 58

    Trust me. He’s nuts.

    I may not be a trained professional, but as an amateur lunatic, I can safely assure you this one time we can go ahead and punch the crazy ticket.

    You mean well and you are doing good works but this isn’t the act of someone just a little bothered by what happened on television last night or someone who has problems peeing in bed.




    Trust me just this one time.

    Take Care,

    1. 58.1

      Mike just made this entire thread. Thank you for your candor. All this academic speak was boring, ridiculous and ultimately won’t do a darn thing to prevent the next lone white male from shooting lots of people at once.

  44. Dan

    Do you consider psychopathy and other disorders to be mental illness? Because bottom line is, nobody who guns down children is right in the head. If mental illness is not to blame, then what? Demons?

    1. 59.1


      There is not a historical record of demonic activity resulting in mass murder..

      Let’s eliminate demons, bed wetting, Honey Boo Boo, the last election, and High Fructose Corn Syrup.

      I think, Dan, you mentioned mental illness.

      Historically speaking, perhaps be can indeed make a case for that.

  45. 60

    Your notes are not correct

    1) His brother came and said that the shooter had a personality disorder. A family friend stated that the shooter had Aspergers.

    2) He didn’t buy the guns -he stole them from his mother (and I believe from her car so they were not in a place she would assume he could assess. He also used pistols and I’ve read he left the assault rifle untouched.

  46. 61

    Kate, this is one of the best written blogs I’ve seen in such a sensitive subject. We run an organization in Mexico (VidaBipolar or “Bipolife (which is a domain we also own for the future). We try to work together with other countries both for content and to give people hope. I agree with you 100% in here and I would really appreciate it if you could get in touch with me, these articles really need to be read by more people who can develop a better conscioussness, and unfortunately, Mexico as well as other countries who are working with us, really need to have access to this content to people we can look up to, and you, really have that place right off the bat from this article I stumbled upon.

    Very best wishes and I think you have my e-mail already from this form, otherwise it’s just sergio at vidabipolar dot com and at vidabipolar1 on twitter.

    Thank you so much in advance if you can keep in touch with me.


  47. 63

    I have two questions about the research on this topic: has anyone studied whether there’s a correlation between criminals similar to Adam Lanza and (possibly specific) mental diagnoses? I’m asking about people who have no or limited prior criminal record who decide to kill multiple people at the same time, and who aren’t part of a real political/religious movement. (I want to exclude career and organized criminals and killers engaged in wars or other kinds of violent conflicts where groups of people are fighting each other.)

    Similarly, has anyone studied murder-suicides to look at whether there’s a correlation between people who commit them and mental diagnoses? I know that a variety of mental disorders are risk factors for suicide.

    My anecdotal impression is that people who commit this particular kind of crime are more likely to have mental disorders than the general population. As this is an anecdotal impression, I could easily be wrong, and I’d like to know what the research shows.

    Discussions about this topic tend to founder on differences between the use of colloquial language and folk beliefs about mental health, how the legal system handles people with mental disorders, and formal research in psychology. However, even aside from those problems, the question “what constitutes a mental disorder” is ambiguous even in psychology, and the criteria for specific disorders can provoke heated arguments both in and out of academia that current knowledge is inadequate to settle. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and lay people have been arguing over the definitions and treatments for mental disorders I have for as long as I have been alive, and I don’t see any resolution in sight. Situations like this are that much muddier.

    1. 63.1

      Mother Jones did an analysis of recent mass shootings and their perpetrators . I quote:

      We identified and analyzed 61 of them—24 in the last seven years alone. . . . Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 35 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. (Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving, regarded by some experts as “suicide by cop.”) And according to additional research we completed recently, at least 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.

      61 isn’t a large sample size, but a 62.2% rate of mental health problems and a 57.4% or 68.9% rate of suicide, depending on if you count suicide-by-cop, are both so much higher than in the general population that it’s unlikely the difference is due to chance. If the article’s numbers are right, while it’s not necessarily true that a mass shooter has preexisting mental problems, a statement like, “Adam Lanza is likely to have mental health problems,” is true because that’s what the probabilities suggest.

      1. This. Many good points are being made in the OP and the thread about how the mentally ill are victims of violence, unfair stereotyping, etc., but you can’t ignore the facts in the Mother Jones piece, either. If the topic is mass shootings of random victims (noting that mass shootings are a tiny proportion of the total gun violence in the U.S., horrifying as they are), prior mental illness is one of the dominant patterns, as is suicide at the end of it, use of semiautomatic weapons, etc. It would probably be good if we had widely agreed-upon terminology for distinguishing the rare cases of violent mental illness from everything else, but you can’t have a sensible discussion of mass shootings, at least, without acknowledging that it’s an important variable. And that it would make sense to try to figure out ways to e.g. alert the authorities if someone with a history of violent mental illness tries to get guns.

        There are all sorts of complex issues, e.g. mass shootings are so rare that any predictive model based on general characteristics will have low predictive power, e.g. if you took the “classic” mass shooter profile — young white male with a history of mental illness and violent-inclinations, the vast majority of them will never commit murder. There was a good discussion on NPR yesterday.

      2. There’s no question that there’s a strong correlation between mental illness and mass shootings. But it’s very shortsighted to say that the mental illness is the cause of the violence. There are intermediate steps between the mental illness and the shootings. For example, every single one of the mass shooters who had prior mental health issues had also been severely stigmatized for them. Arguably it’s the stigma, rather than the mental illness itself, that more directly leads to violence. And that’s an idea that society at large tends to be unwilling to accept, because that would mean taking responsibility.

  48. 64

    How can a “sane” person do this? Here’s a possible recipe: Take one human, preferably young, smart and male (lots of testosterone helps), add one part societal conditioning (movies and television glorify violence, and try to find a video game that doesn’t involve killing something or macho danger), add easy access to powerful guns, stir in some childhood abuse or trauma, blend in some awkwardness, isolation, indifference, hopelessness and daily humiliation (anyone remember high school?), make sure to include a heaping cup of the exalted state of capital-F Fame in our social order, plus a near constant stream of media about how awful everything is and how much worse it’s going to get. Then add one Awful Final Insult, (job loss, dumped by partner, divorce, death of a loved one) and . . . well, that’s how a “sane” person could snap and do something horribly, horribly un-sane without anything from the DSM-V present on his chart. As armchair, amateur psychologists we aren’t qualified to guess, but even professionals will never know who this young man was inside, not really. They might piece together a profile, a sketch from what he left behind and insight from his brother and others who knew him, but the actual why of this monstrous act died with him.

  49. 65

    I’m having to use this work-around because when I use my regular identity it claims that I am an imposter, even though I am using the same information as always. I miss the days when we could just say who we were and the software wouldn’t try to argue with us.

    I have struggled with depression, social anxiety, and paranoia for nearly all of my life, and when things get really bad I am subject to being beat up by imaginary people. I know crazy. I have worked very hard to achieve what sanity I have. There is no way that the person who shot all those schoolchildren was sane, and implying that a sane person would, or even could, do something like that is counterproductive.

    One of the things that it took me a long time to realize – in part because of the ridiculous rigid distinction between ‘sane’ and ‘insane’ – was that everyone has to work to be sane. Some of us have continuing biochemical impediments to consistently being sane, for some lucky others of us the biochemical difficulties are only the occasional low-blood-sugar or severe stress. In addition to biochemical impediments to sanity there are also informational difficulties to overcome. People are every bit as able to behave ‘insanely’ because of an erroneous understanding of the world around them as they are because of biochemical problems. And the two interact – biochemical problems can foster informational problems, and informational problems can produce biochemical problems (stress-related in particular). Being sane is something that everyone struggles with.

    Because being sane is something that everyone struggles with everyone – and particularly those folks who assess themselves as sane – needs to learn that stigmatizing ‘craziness’ is ultimately self-defeating and stupid. Everyone needs support and compassion in their efforts to be sane, to be able to successfully engage with reality on their own terms. Mutual support of our sanity cannot be limited to those of us who usually seem to find it easy to ‘be sane’. Limiting our support and compassion to ‘the socially acceptable’ leaves a vast void of fear intimately available to us all; a fear that if our inner doubts become worse we will lose the support and care that enables us to live our lives.

  50. 66

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve seen so much of this finger pointing at “mental illness” on my FB feed, and it’s nice to see someone discuss the way this could lead to stigmatization, and further hurt people who are already extremely marginalized <3

    But the real reason I'm commenting & all, check out the 5minute mark of this video: http://youtu.be/FGzKXv60rFs?t=5m …according to this forensic psychiatrist the vast majority of people who commit these kinds of crimes DO NOT have any form of mental illness, eh? (Thought you might like to know the experts agree with you)

  51. Cal

    I was not able to read all the posts but I can guarantee almost 100% that no one here has heard this one before.
    It starts with psych drugs. Klebold and Harris were on them in 1999, 13 years ago. Back then we saw one shooting every 6 months or so. I saw the writing on the wall. We will see more and more of this until we see one shooting a week. Here we are. All were on meds, a poor colloquial name for hard narcotic psych drugs as they ARE NOT MEDICINE!! They are all addictive and when one comes off of them, the withdrawal effects are deadly to self and/or others as evidenced in past shootings over the past 10 years.

    The next part of this post is what will take everyone here by surprise. During WW2, Japanese fighter pilots went on suicide missions flying their planes into enemy ships and were called kamikaze pilots. They did not do this on their own for love of country. They were drugged and narcosynthesized into committing suicide for love of country. Iraqi suicide bombers went through the same process.

    No one will willfully kill themselves and blow others up based on jihad or Christianity or any other cultist belief. People will kill self and others based on drugged hypnosis. 20 year old kids can not be that psychotic to commit the acts we have witnessed over the years, unless they have been hypnotised with drugs used as the drugs make them easily suggestible.

    We all saw the Patriot Act come out toot sweet after 911. It is not a small document. The events of 911 were known to all involved months before the acts occurred. Afghanistan and Iraq were the targets as well as the Patriot Act implementation. The events of the past week in Oregon and now in Newtown were planned and carried out by unwary young men who neither knew what “they” were doing. Why? To get our guns. If the feds can’t get rid of the 2nd amendment through the supreme court, then public opinion is the way to do it. Have a seemingly mild mannered young man go to a school and kill 20 young children and 7adults and create the mindset in the public that guns are evil and are the reason for the crimes.

    You are saying “what the hell is this asshole talking about?” He is talking about something called a false flag done to achieve something to take away our freedoms or to start a war or get a President elected. If we could investigate the shooters life over the past 6 months we would find the hypnotist, more than likely a psychiatrist, paid handsomely by someone he never met, laid in some post hypnotic suggestions and then he, the psychiatrist left the area permanently and took his millions with him. The stimulus needed for the shooter to commit the act yesterday could have been anything common that would have set his rampage in motion. If you watched the Manchurian candidate, the narcosynthesized subject was called on a cell phone and given the command by his mother, a powerful Senator in the movie who wanted her son, the hypnotized subject to become VP. This is similar to what I and millions of others think happened in Newton Connecticut.

    1. 67.1

      So I’m just going to leave this here so people can look at it.

      Please look up the word hypnotize, because it does not mean what you think it means. I mean, in general I don’t think you know what you’re saying, but also you aren’t using words properly.

      1. It’s a typical conservative ploy when facing yet another of these horrific massacres. They know as well as any that the obvious cause of ‘lots of gun crime’ is ‘lots of guns’, and so they try to vanish it by turning it into a consipracy: the feds want our guns and they need a precipitative event to make the public want it too.

        This guy is not a Poe in case you were thinking it, this clutching at straws bullshittery is commonplace every time there is a shooting spree.

  52. 68

    Kate said: “Assuming mental illness without any kind of evidence is also just plain bad skepticism.”

    God bless ya’, Kate, I could not agree with you more that there is no evidence of mental illness when a young man kills 20 six and seven year old children, 6 adults, his mother, and himself. Your education in psychology no doubt enables you to refrain from speculating on this lad’s mental health where those less knowledgeable might erroneously speculate that this misunderstood youth was suffering from some sort of mental illness. I must admit, however, that I’m curious what your psychology professors would make of this notion of our’s? Perhaps you could conduct an informal survey of them and give a brief summary of what they think the probability that this shooter was mentally ill, at least at the time of the shooting, might have been.

    1. 68.1

      It’s nifty then, that I got to sit down with a prof and talk about this as part of my social psychology studies. Which is a lot of what informed my article. You’re welcome to do the same.
      Thanks for the sarcasm.

  53. 69

    Now that we have solid information that this shooter suffered from some kind of autism at the very least do those of us who ASSUMED a person who kills twenty little children without a cause is enough information to claim he had mental illness win a prize?

  54. 71

    Forgive me please but this idea that these people are not mentally ill is nonsense. I speak as a Ph. D level psychologist with 30 years experience. The fact that saying so may stigmatize the mentally ill is irrelevant to whether it is true. It seems so obvious to me that I can’t believe people are arguing against it. A waste of my time to say much more, except that anyone who would do such a thing is seriously disordered,mentally,emotionally, whatever, whether he has a diagnosis or not. Anyone with any training would know this. The fact that Asperger’s may not have been associated with such acts is irrelevant. Other factors would be present. Also the cause of the disorder is not relevant here.The man was seriously disturbed as evidenced by the nature of his acts. get a grip people.

    1. 71.1

      Thank you for addressing the irrelevance of ASD’s. I have two sons on the spectrum, and there is no connection between Autism Spectrum Disorders and mass murder. So the kid had Asperger’s… they way his “peers” describe him, I would agree. But it was NOT ASD that made him kill 26 people.

  55. 72

    There’s some disagreement on how to label it. Autism is a “neurodevelopmental disorder.” But aren’t many mental illnesses neurodevelopmental disorders? Regardless the history of the shooter makes it very apparent he was not well adjusted or “normal”. It is crazy to go to a school and kill twenty children. Period.

    1. 72.1

      No, no, no. You’re conflating two different meanings of the word “crazy”. It certainly is abnormal, uncommon, a deviation from expected norms to commit such a terrible crime. But that does not mean he was suffering from any one specific disease.

      Look at religious terrorists, for example. We understand that they kill because they buy into a toxic system of ideas and an insular culture where no one ever questions their self-serving beliefs; they get brainwashed and they brainwash themselves. But that results from the way they treat each other, not the way their brains work.

      For another example, about a century ago was roughly the peak of black lynchings in the United States. One might casually say that rounding up a group of neighbors to drag someone from his house, brutally murder and mutilate him, then take a group photo and party afterwards is “crazy”. But black men are lynched much more rarely these days. If that type of tribalistic murder was the result of a mental illness, then you would have to explain why that illness has been reduced so dramatically in the population. They weren’t the result of illness, however: Those orgiastic killings were cultural – and that culture has changed.

      No diagnosis of “crazy” is required.

  56. 73

    I counsel a schizophrenic (pretty severe case in many ways) teenager. The teen would never kill, but she might become a victim, that’s possible. I agree with you. There are other kinds of mental health, ones brought by childhood rape, etc. But none of that changes the fact that we don’t know anything about this guy, as you said, and it doesn’t change the lack of gun control in the US. Its time to really do something about the gun problems.

  57. 74

    61.CAKeE wrote

    But the real reason I’m commenting & all, check out the 5minute mark of this video: http://youtu.be/FGzKXv60rFs?t=5m …according to this forensic psychiatrist the vast majority of people who commit these kinds of crimes DO NOT have any form of mental illness, eh? (Thought you might like to know the experts agree with you)

    Listen again and you will see he does not say “the vast majority of people who commit these kinds of crimes DO NOT have any form of mental illness, eh?” He does say most do not have a [known] history of a mental disorder or a major mental illness, which is not the same. No hx doesn’t mean no present disorder, and not having been diagnosed does not mean no mental disorder. too much lay opinion here and common sense diagnosis. please leave it to us professionals.

  58. 75

    Actually his brother confirmed that he had suffered from mental illness and murdering people would in fact show a mental defect thus mental illness. While I agree society has created a blanket catergory in which they lump everything from depression to sociopaths- called mental illness it is still in fact mental illness. The bottom line is, healthy people do not murder people. As someone who has gone to school for and worked in the field of social work I promise you that 100% of all murders have some form of mental illness. That certainly does not mean they should get off because of it, nor that it is an excuse- what it means is we need to work harder to prevent these things from happening by working on the people in this society.

    1. 75.1

      Er. Nope. Wrong.

      “Actually his brother confirmed he suffered from mental illness”

      ASD/Aspergers isn’t mental illness. It is NOT the same as an Axis I disorder, and conflating the two is dangerous and ignorant.

      “Healthy people do not murder people”

      You’re doing exactly what I said was the problem: making mentally healthy a yardstick of “good”. No. That’s not how it works. Take My Lai, for instance. That was mass murder. Did a ton of mentally ill people just TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY end up in the same unit? No.

      “100% of all murder[ers] have some form of mental illness”
      Geez, you went into the wrong field, get in the justice system, because you’d be a crack lawyer, getting all of them off on insanity pleas.

      Then, there’s the part of your argument where you’re going in circles

      1) He killed innocent children, so he obviously was mentally ill
      2) What’s the only explanation for why he killed those children? Well because healthy people do not murder people!
      So we know he was mentally ill because he killed children because he was mentally ill!

      Makes perfect logical sense.

  59. 77

    The question here seems to be – “is committing a mass murder-suicide reliable evidence of a mental illness?”

    My instinct is to say “yes.” Imagine a young man telling a therapist “I am seriously considering shooting up a school, then killing myself.” Certainly, just from that, the therapist could not diagnose a specific disorder, but it would seem to be clear malpractice to tell that man that he was mentally healthy and did not require therapy and/or medication, regardless of the attendant circumstances. Can anyone with actual psych training weigh in here?

    Also, I think I may be confused about what is meant by “mental illness.” When we’re saying “mental illness,” are we just talking about chemical issues? Or do we mean a diagnosible illness? My understanding is that mental illnesses can be environmental as well as chemical, but I could be wrong about that.

    1. 77.1

      Sane people kill people all the time. Like, constantly. Even, sometimes, when they expect it to cost their own life. Sometimes we hold these big events where organized killing-people groups show up and kill each other (and anyone else who gets too close) by the thousands. What, you think the legal/ethical distinction between murder and justifiable homicide is hardwired into our brains, and can only be overcome by craziness?

      Or, to put it another way – if a typical human brain couldn’t decide it had good enough reason to kill people, we wouldn’t be here. We would have lost the war with the Neanderthals.

  60. 78

    I wish the media would stop equating Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD’s in general with MENTAL ILLNESS. There is enough misinformation about ASD’s in the medial already. But the rocket scientists in the media would now have you believe that every child with Asperger’s should be “watched” for signs that they may commit mass murder.

    Next thing you know they’ll be locking up all of our children who have a dx on record…

  61. VT

    Thank you.

    I don’t have one of the more stigmatized problems (that I’m aware of) but I have pretty bad social anxiety that results in me acting quite oddly around people sometimes. People who aren’t close seem to look at me, and treat me like I’m a danger to them. In stores I’ve been followed before because “I look suspicious” which just makes me more anxious. Given, it gets me out of traffic tickets pretty quickly because cops don’t seem to want to deal with my nervousness, no matter how polite and cooperative I am.

    I’d rather people be understanding that I’m just nervous and more likely to have a panic attack, run out and cry, than to snap and harm them.

    Admittedly I’m not as good at dealing with other people who have any sort of mental illness myself, but it’s not because I think they’re dangerous, it’s because I’m socially inept and don’t know how to interact with them any more than I know how to interact with a so called “normal” person.

  62. 80

    The discourse whether about guns,violence or mental health needs to continue ! This is the way we as humans
    attempt to wrap our minds around trauma. To truncate any one piece of it because people speculate or employ “bad skepticism “(?) shuts down inquiry needed to make informed change happen.

  63. CC

    The thing is, when people say only mentally insane people would do these sorts of things, they are not saying all people with mental illness WILL do these sorts of things. These is a difference.

    1. VT

      It is what is being implied by that though, that is the problem. It is associating mental illness with being “a monster.” People who kill others do not necessarily have a mental illness.

    2. 81.2

      You must not have been on the internet the last few days. I’m seeing MANY people say everyone with autism or certain mental illnesses ought to be “taken off the street” for the good of “society”.

  64. Ben

    It seems to me your post really just argues that we should make more effort to teach people Bayes theorem, since it makes it obvious that P(mass murderer|mental illness) != P(mental illness|mass murderer).

  65. 85

    This piece makes some thoughtful points (I’ve even linked to it in my blog post about this very same issue. The one problem I see though is that this article is far too emotional. Given the perilous nature of this issue, it’s important to approach it from a neutral, calm place. You can make your point without the vitriol; in fact, that would probably make your argument more attractive. Cheers!

    1. 85.1

      I can’t find it within myself to criticise the tone of an article written by someone who has to see this self-same shit every time a gun owner decides to use their firearms to commit mass murder. Not only has to SEE it – because we all have to SEE it – but also knows just what a giant, steaming pile of bullshit it is.

      I doubt I’d be able to keep the anguish out of my text in that situation. Seems like a gut-twistingly frustrating thing to deal with, even moreso when I know people, who are already suffering terribly, will end up in a worse position, all because some ill-informed blowhard feels entitled to voice their misbegotten opinion on an issue they know nothing about and don’t care to research.

      How do you do write about that, from that position, without sounding emotional?

  66. 87

    I think there’s a good argument that it isn’t the mental illness itself, but the way other people respond to the mental illness, that ultimately leads to violence. If there’s one thing that mass shooters have in common, it’s that they were totally rejected by the people around them. Often that kind of rejection is a result of unusual behavior: even if mental illness is in the causal chain, the stigma surrounding mental illness is probably a more direct cause.

  67. 88

    Hi Kate,

    Nice argument and I agree we should not use the mental illness as a scapegoat. Just to be clear though, in your note 2 at the bottom of the article, “When you use mental illness as the reason for this shooting, you are ignoring a host of other societal factors that let him buy a gun, that let that gun he bought be a combat rifle.”

    He did not acquire his own weapons. Indeed when he tried to buy a gun at a store, he was turned down since he did not want to do the background check as well as obliging the waiting period. It’s his mother’s weapons. Given I am not sure how she store her firearms at home, I can’t comment much on that. But I would imagine if she has locked the weapons up properly, no one would have been able to get their hands on the firearms.

  68. 89

    i agree with some, yet disagree with most, plus he stole the weapons used from his mother. they were registered to Nancy Lanza. he was angry at the world, and wanted to make a statement. it’s obvious there were some mental deficiencies there; be it dissociative disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, or what have it. people don’t make assumptions to feel better, we need to heal- yes…but a healthy, sound mind would have had the ability to rationalize that it is very, very wrong to shoot & kill your own mother, and innocent strangers…mostly children. depressed people commit suicide every 14 minutes in this country; most of them do it alone (how they felt the whole time leading up to their last final act) This man wasn’t “just sad,” having a bad day 🙁

  69. 90


    I replied to you earlier not realizing you were the writer. I popped in from a link at Pharyngula and didn’t recognize your name/picture.

    Anyway, I checked in today to see how discussions were going and I noticed “Kate Donovan” is a very commited commenter. So I went back and looked at the main page and discovered that . . .

    I thought that 95% of your post was super responsible. People do seem to jump to all these immediate conclusions regarding the killer’s mental health in these circumstances and the issues tend to fizzle away. The usual result is that nobody is better off afterwards.

    You came across as a leader.

  70. 91

    A healthy person would not shoot 26 people, 20 of which were kids. That being said it was his own business what his problem was and I won’t try to analyze it. I do not have violent tenancies, but I have mental health issues know I need help and support from professionals as well as friends to get through the real hardships and invisible pain. I do think that there is a stigma on anyone who need this kind of help, like we brought it on ourselves, we didn’t. I do not have a problem with saying I get help when I need it and I am not ashamed and I do not look down on someone because the need help either.

    1. 91.1

      The military kills women and children and all sorts of defenseless folks often. The shooters get rewards for the killing. These soldiers are at the peak of physical health.
      These killings are ordinary and usual and happen daily. Healthy humans are capable of the most heartbreaking, immoral acts.

      1. If you think going into a school and calmly killing twenty children is normal or understandable then you live in some nightmare world that, thankfully, I do not inhabit.

  71. 94

    Although I agree with the sentiment that people should not assumed mental illness, the act itself is one that reveals there was no mental health. So although that is inconvenient for others who suffer from mental illness and are not violent, it is still a fact.

    You should also look at the statistics that link mental illness, MEDICATION and violent killings.

  72. 95

    I will check 5 on the scale for “strongly agree.” We tend to want: to think there’s something fundamentally different about a mass murderer, so we could never be that person: to believe that if our society could just get it right, if we could just provide proper mental health care to everyone, then this would never happen; and to be able to blame someone for not getting it right, for not providing the mental health care or for letting the wrong person have access to guns. But we have to remember Anders Breivik (sp?)… and Osama Bin Laden. They were not mentally ill, as far as anyone has been able to determine. I can’t say I know what the “real problem” is here, but I certainly believe that deaths both accidental and intentional will increase along with the firepower we allow out in society.

  73. 97

    The guns were HOW, not WHY.

    So, because you worked in a lab when you were 18 you can now unequivocally state that it wasn’t schizophrenia therefore he had no mental illness whatsoever. Must have been an awesome lab.

    Not giving an armchair diagnosis (although your random one on schizophrenia appears to be), but, in your expert experience, when was the last time a mentally stable, mentally healthy individual killed their parent and then went hunting 6 year olds?

    The issue is that we are not having the necessary conversations about addressing mental illness because of the gun argument and because of arguments like, gee, I dunno, maybe ones that go “it’s not schizophrenia so he wasn’t mentally ill.”

  74. 98

    This is the same bullshit logic circle that has been addressed several times already. As for the guns, they can be both how and why, provided you happen to live in a nation that promotes gun use, belligerence and intolerance all at once. Stand Your Ground laws, while not directly involved in this case, come to mind.

  75. 99

    How and Why? Really? So, did the guns call out to him? Did they force his actions?

    We desperately need rational gun laws, yes, but we also even more desperately need quality health care for the mentally ill and quality support for their caregivers and families. Pretending someone mentally and emotionally healthy would and could shoot their parent, then load up and go hunt 6 year-olds and teachers isn’t helping address the gaping holes in our pathetic healthcare system at all.

  76. 100

    Thank you for this wonderful article. My daughter left it on a FB comment rant she saw me leave in resoonse to some moron who dared to suggest Autism/Asbergers Sydrome, as the ‘mental illness’ this maniac had. Not the least of which Autism/Asbergers are not mental illnesses – but the outrage I feel at the common assumption perpetrated by idiots who ASSUMED first, then spread this message, now it’s supposedly fact. No medical professional who treated Adam Lanza has come out & officially announced this kid’s diagnosis, and none will be doing so. The rumors from ppl willing to put their mug in front of a tv camera for their 30 seconds of fame could very well be the cause of harm done to someone diagnosed with autism, asbergers, or some form of mental illness. How about this – he was evil & troubled. That is very different from mental illness. I’m sick to death of the improper rumor diagnosing. It does nothing to further the cause in favor of understanding mental illness. Wonderful article. Thank you. I intend to spread it like wildfire to combat the BS swirling around.

    1. 100.1

      Katherine Norton Malek, insofar as a disorder is listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, then it has met the standard for being deemed a “mental disorder.” And indeed, on page 80 of the DSM-IV-TR, the most recent editon of the manual, you will find “299.80 Asperger’s Disorder”, and on page 84 the diagnostic criteria therefor. Now, you may not agree that Asperger’s Disorder should be classified as a mental disorder, and I myself am bemused by a field of medical study in which people basically vote on what is and what is not to be considered some kind of “disease,” but for the time being both Asperger’s Disorder and Autism are both in fact so classified, and I suspect that a court of law would accept the classification. Let’s see what happens with DSM-V, which has not yet been released.

  77. Stu

    Obviously this person had a total lack of empathy for others, this should have been recognised earlier on in his life, this lack of empathy doesnt occur overnight. What we need is for teachers doctors and parents to be trained and given resources to recognise these indicators. A gun is just an efficient way to display a lack of empathy for others. Anyway what was his mother doing with 5 firearms in the house when she was worried over her sons increasing disturbed behaviour? 5 firearms is too many for one person to have.

  78. 102

    “I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.”

    I’m asking you not to make “being mentally ill” the standard for deserving sympathy and support.

    Privileging the shooter as the one true victim isn’t going to lead to fewer shootings. Adding overriding sympathy to the fame that they already get for their actions isn’t going to reduce the appeal of picking up a semiautomatic weapon and walking into a school.

    Better mental health care may. Which is all the more reason not to make supporting it a matter of yielding to shame. However good it may feel to be the one doing the shaming.

  79. 103

    I am considering what you have spoken about. I think I understand where you are coming from with this. I think however that this does need to be spoken of in some sort of mental health terms. Not so much any particular diagnosis, but more of how the world is generally going mad.

    With so many people forgetting to be basically kind to one another, we are pushing people to edges that they haven’t been pushed before. I am experiencing it every day. I have found myself speaking bad about and complaining about others on a regular basis. Why am I only seeing the negative things? Why do so many of us only see the negative? It is a viscious downward spiral. Perhaps this young man just had enough of the negative. Perhaps he felt people were speaking of him negatively.

    I don’t profess for a second to be an expert on this matter. I feel what I can personnaly do for this problem is to stop being part of it. I am starting with trying really hard not to utter some of the thoughts I am having. Hopefully from there I can move to not having the negative thought at all. And maybe from there I can start spreading the Light that I know is somewhere buried inside me.

  80. 105

    Of course I think it’s inappropriate to make armchair diagnoses about Lanza’s particular mental condition (schizophrenia, autism), but I think it’s safe to say that he was mentally unhealthy. I don’t think we hurt others by saying that, either. By definition, he acted antisocially, by killing innocent children, and then taking his own life. These are not actions of a mentally healthy person.

    We DO know his mental state was not healthy or normal. We know this to be fact, because, by definition, normal healthy people don’t kill others and themselves.

    So, yes, let’s admit he was mentally unhealthy, but no, let’s not diagnose him because we are not his doctors.

    1. 105.1

      I’ve addressed this in about fifteen other places, but I’ll say it again. You are making a nonsensical circular argument.

      1) We know he was mentally ill because he killed a bunch of children
      2) He killed a bunch of school children because he was mentally ill

      He was mentally ill because he killed a bunch of school children because he was mentally ill!
      Makes perfect sense.

      Also, you’re arguing against all sorts of archival data to the contrary. Do units of soldiers coincidentally all happen to be mentally ill when things like My Lai happen? Abu Graib? Have you heard of the Stanford prison experiment? Or any of the more ethical reproductions of it? What about the Tuskeegee syphilis crimes? Were those doctors mentally ill, and just happened to end up working together?

  81. 106

    Absolutely correct!!
    We must NOT re-stigmatize mental illness. (for a very short time, we had made progress so that, in some urban centers, it was “fashionable” to say that one was in analysis). To do so actually BLOCKS people from seeking the help they need.
    Stigma does NOTHING to protect people – it simply forces problems to be shoved out of sight until they explode.
    Many years ago I was a teacher of young children. At the time, I was quite shy, timid and uncomfortable in most social situations. I wanted to overcome my shyness. I needed help to change. But I dared not seek help. Why? Because the teacher licesning laws where I taught, were specific: Anyone who sought counseling with a mental health professional of any sort (therapist, or psychiatrist, whatever) – even once, for ANY reason, would be automatically disqualified from teaching.
    . . . Meaning – if you knew you needed counseling (even if your problem – like mine – posed NO danger whatsoever to the children in your care) , and wanted to seek help. . . you would be barred from teaching; but
    . . . if someone was having major problems (like hallucinations, hearing voices, etc.) but did NOT seek help . . .they could remain in the classroom.
    . . . Was the law, based on stigma (ignorance) actually protecting children from unstable teachers? No. It was forcing stable teachers to continue living with treatable problems, and was preventing unstable teachers from obtaining the help they needed.

  82. 107

    Psychologically speaking, why do these shooters go after the most defenseless of people.
    Hopefully this is the right thread to bring this up.
    What really gets me to thinking is the question as to why these sort of tragedies are directed at the most defenseless of people?!
    Why don’t these shooters attack a police station or military base? Seems they don’t have an escape plan or end up killing self as planned any way?
    Is there some psychological advantage(whatever that is) to going after children?

  83. 110

    Thank you for this.

    My son and I are autistic – on top of hearing this horrible news, we now feel hunted. My son has been sputtering for two days, “I don’t even like guns! I’M SCARED OF GUNS!”

    It’s awesome to see people everywhere saying “You people ought to be locked up for the good of society” when we’ve never done anything wrong.

    1. 111.1

      Unfortunately, all it takes is one incident like what happened in Newtown, and all people will remember is that someone who was believed to have some kind of anomaly in psychological functioning, whether one wants to call it “mental illness” or not, appears to have been responsible for an act of almost unparalleled heinousness, and that memory will erase volumes of statisfical data about the low frequency with which such acts are associated with those with diagnosed mental disorders. Of course, one must also remember that psychological/psychiatric diagnosis is extremely unreliable, as one might expect in an area in which a panel has to VOTE on what clusters of observable behaviors should be considered to be evidence of a “mental illness.” Working with mental illness is not like working with physical illness. As one with 34 years of experience in the field as a licensed clinical psychologist for the mental health system of a major American city, I can tell you that one single solitary person who has repeated contact with mental health professionals over even as short a span of time as 1 year is likely to gather multiple diagnoses, simply because objective criteria for any particular psychiatric diagnostic category are hard to come by, which leaves ample room for the personal biases of the diagnostician to carry the day. Finally, sometimes I’m not sure that judgments derived from psychology/psychiatry are the right way to go, and find myself thinking in terms of the prescientific, theological concept of “evil.”

  84. 112

    I don’t think we should speculate on the details of someone’s mental health, but it is worth asking: did a mentally healthy person do this?

    The answer has to be a resounding: no.

    If we knew more, we could do more about it, we do not know if there were signs that mean better mental health services could have helped him, but we cannot accept that there is anything remotely approaching mental health which leads a person to do something like this.

    We don’t have to judge, or speculate, but that’s a fact that we know.

    Governments and doctors and social norms have come up with twisted ideas about a lot of things being mental health issues which are not, and that’s terrible, but I don’t believe there is any view on mental health which accepts this type of action as those of a mentally healthy person.

    Anyway, thoughtful article. 😉

  85. 113

    interesting post. i think you’re’ saying the right things for the wrong reasons, though. the reason to not presume that mental illness leads to violence is because it doesn’t always, but that’s not the same as presuming violence may be the result of mental illness, which is a possibility, though not a definite fact in every case. there shouldn’t be a moratorium on the link between a violent event and mental illness just because it might make some sensitive ears ring. i think it too reductive to say that everyone’s reasoning in raisin the issue is using mental illness as a scapegoat. the reason we want to make mental health care a priority shouldn’t be because we’re afraid the mentally ill might hurt us. the reason it should be an issue is because if, behind the veil of ignorance, we don’t know who will come into this world sane or ill, we’d want a world in which those who need help for any individual illness or struggle can attain it, and should feel free to attain it as free of stigma as humanly possible. to say we shouldn’t talk about it now is to enforce the stigma rather than dispel it.

  86. Ken

    While I appreciate the sentiments of this article, I do believe that acts of this magnitude require thinking beyond what we would call ‘normal’. It is also true, (I believe) that acts like this probably require the confluence of several events which constitute a perfect storm. Access to guns. Gun culture. Violence in culture. And probably – severe mental illness.

    It is fascinating that most of the perpetrators are male, which should force us to ask why.

    However, to say that several factors must have been at play does not negate any of the factors. We need to deal better with mental illness – acceptance, treatment, understanding. But that just can’t stop me saying that someone who did this is crazy. We do need words to explain behaviour this far from the norm.

  87. Joe

    I understand where you’re coming from, but you seem to forget that “mental illness” is a very generalized term. It’s obvious that someone who walks into a school shooting people for no apparent reason has, at the very least, a complete disregard for the life of others, an utmost lack of compassion, an emotional dissociation with the act they’re committing, etc… all of which point to severe personality disorders.

    The inherent problem with this discussion is that people don’t understand the difference between “mental illness” and “personality disorder”. Even the scientific world has difficulty defining the two. This article attempts to clarify the difference. Whether Adam Lanza had a mental illness or not we may never know, but there is no contesting that he had an antisocial personality disorder and that he needed treatment. Developmental disorders (i.e. Asperger’s) and mental disorders (i.e. schizophrenia) are only part of the puzzle. A perfectly “normal” person could have an untreated personality disorder and become a murderer, just as an autistic schizophrenic might be the kindest person you’ll ever meet.

    I appreciate people posting about mental health in times like this because it raises awareness. Our society still has difficulty understanding the afflictions of the human mind. These articles pique our curiosity and, with the tools we have available to us in this information age, hopefully we can all learn something. It is sad that it takes a catastrophe for us to take interest in expanding our knowledge and breaking down old stigmas.

    1. 115.1

      That it may be more a personality disorder or mental illness – how does that matter? We are not talking about diagnosing the criminal except to say that he/she is obviously abnormal.

  88. 116

    Hi Kate,
    I think that people want to believe that mental illness is the only logical answer to these types of tragedies. At least that gives the person some kind of humanity or even “excuse”, I suppose. The alternative belief would be that one of our fellow human beings could actually be that evil to pull of a crime of that scale. I think that option is scarier for people to think about (even if it is incorrect). Thank you for giving us something to think about.

  89. 117

    The killing of people that can not defend self happens worldwide on a daily basis via military actions Do you deem the soldiers to be mentally ill or unstable or sociopaths.
    Seems the label “mentally ill” is applied so the labeler can understand the “why” and be comforted by that answer.
    But that label has to be applied consistently or it is only applied for comfort.
    Seems regular, normal, healthy military people can kill women and children and not be too upset about it. Often there are rewards for killing defenseless people.
    The Stanley Milgram experiments at Yale in 1973 show what regular folks are willing to do when an authority figure tells them to do it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
    Actual on site videos at youtube of Milgram’s work

  90. 118

    The people who are talking about mental illness right now are, generally speaking, not mentally ill. They are so horrified by this tragedy that they feel comfortable pointing to something outside themselves as the cause.
    I feel really uneasy whenever someone in the media points out that Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome. While Asperger’s is not considered a mental illness, just having it connected with this tragedy offends me. I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and connecting it with this massacre implies that Lanza’s behavior is somehow typical of Aspies, which it categorically is not.

  91. 119

    Among all of this, I should note that I have a laundry list of diagnoses, myself, including depression, anxiety, ADD, and PTSD (that last being the result of an abusive relationship) in addition to a physical disability (Cerebral Palsy).

    All this? I mean, we’re talking about it, that’s good. I’m just… I’m finding that it’s poking me in some raw places, so to speak. I’m utterly sickened by the events of the past week. I’m feeling kinda… depressed, angry, sad, enraged, confused, and anxious all in one big tangle of fucked up emotion. My mental state is not of the good right now.

    All I want to say on the matter is that threats of murder or suicide and such need to be taken seriously, even if the one making them is your own child.

    1. 119.1

      ESPECIALLY if the one making them is your own child. Yeah, the threats may be, and often are, purely manipulative, but better safe than sorry, yes? Sorry that the events in Sandy Hook appear to have thrown you into such a tizzy, and I hoper your emotional estate improves soon.

  92. 121

    This is an excellent article. The problem with focusing on mental illness as the cause of such violence is not only that most mentally ill individuals are not outwardly violent but that such a focus steers us away from the real issue – potential for violence. The latter can occur in anyone, given an explosive mix of factors. Look at domestic violence.

    So what we should be focusing on is assessing the potential for violence in each individual before they can have access to lethal weapons. We will never be able to prevent people in such turmoil from having access to all lethal weapons but if we make “risk assessment” a practice in all of the intense relationships we know of (e.g., disputes between parents and offspring, between spouses, between employers and employees, etc.) and using this information in reducing access to lethal weapons as much as we can, we will decrease the likelihood of lethal events.

    1. 121.1

      Well, Martin, if you’re familiar with the research literature on predicting violent behavior, you know that no one does it very well, and that mental health professionals do a bit worse at it than the lay public. The first problem one encounters when trying to predict violent behavior from a particular individual is, within what time frame? Will the person be violent within the next hour? The next week? The next year? Sometime before he/she dies? The reason for the abysmal performance of mental health professionals in predicting violence is that we tend to operate under the “better safe than sorry rule,” lest someone we’ve cleared as being okay then does something really nasty, and our professional reputations suffer.

  93. 122

    I have to admit, i didn’t read all 200-some-odd comments, but I just wanted to point out, in support of you, that one doesn’t need a mental illness to be depressed, to feel alienated, to feel hurt, or wronged, or want revenge for something (real or imagined) done to you. Granted, some of that can also be worked out by going to see a therapist, but, it doesn’t mean that individual has a mental illness. And, of course, the inverse is true as well. Someone with a mental illness might be happy, feel like they fit in, and have a reasonable to wonderful life that they live, perhaps, because they have appropriate therapy, and should not be looked down upon for either piece (the mental illness, or the therapy).

    Speculating wildly, if this was a perfectly mentally ordinary individual, who was picked on at school, who’s mother lavished her love and care on her students, and consistently negatively compared him to her students, who, say, invited her favorite students to her holiday party, year after year, and who just finished riding him, because he couldn’t even keep a girlfriend, unlike her prized students … there would be no mental illness, just years of mental cruelty against him, and he finally just snapped, and made a very poor choice on how to respond to all the years of abuse.

    It’s possible. We don’t know.

  94. 123

    I’ve been thinking about this discussion a lot over the few days, including doing a lot of reading about murder-suicide, of which mass shootings like the one in Connecticut last week are a subset. Such killing sprees are rare, making it hard to get firm data. Indeed, the rates of murder-suicide in the US, the UK, and countries like Finland, in which it has been studied, are fairly consistent at about 2-3 cases per million people. Obviously, mass killings are even more rare. Kate probably knows the rate of mental illness in the overall population, but it’s got to be 10,000-fold or more higher than that.

    This means is that even if 100% of the shooters were mentally ill, it still would not change the overall likelihood that a mentally ill person would commit murder– the numbers would be within the noise of such measurements. So mental illness could be, and some studies suggest is, strongly correlated to such behavior, but nonetheless an extremely poor predictor. Thus, everybody can be correct in this argument.

    I suspect that some of our differences also stem from whether or not one considers clinical depression to be a form of mental illness. I certainly do. Major risk factors for murder-suicide include being male, depression, especially triggered by a recent loss, and easy access to guns. We can do something about the latter; even if rates of murder-suicide are similar in countries with strong gun control and the US, that would at least prevent so many people being killed by a single perpetrator who chooses to lash out more broadly. Given that there are probably 10,000 men out of a million who fit this description at any given time, and only 2-3 who commit murder-suicide, it’s almost impossible to predict which ones will lash out. So we can’t treat depressed men or other people suffering from other mental illnesses as time bombs about to go off. But as most perpetrators tell at least one other person about their plans, we can take those claims seriously and provide the public health infrastructure to help families who are concerned about the behavior of a loved one.

  95. 124

    A brief note on the above: I’m not sure I’ve used “correlated” correctly. What I mean is that it’s pretty clear that the incidence of mental illness among perpetrators of mass killings and murder-suicide is much higher than in the general population. As Kate points out, the converse isn’t true– mentally ill people are no more likely to kill than any other person.

    Also, let me be clear that I’m not talking about “ordinary” murder here. Those rates do vary considerably across time and culture and easy access to guns clearly a factor. So even if gun laws wouldn’t have prevented Lanza from killing his mother and himself, they do have the potential to prevent loss of life in many other forms, all of which are much more numerous than mass shootings or murder-suicide.

    Finally, the same argument I made in #112 can be made about gun owners. Only a very small percentage of gun owners ever commit violence with them. That doesn’t mean that sensible regulation won’t prevent the loss of lives, but it does explain the emotional response of gun owners who feel unfairly targeted every time something like this happens. My problem is not with gun owners in general; it’s with the NRA, which does everything it can to stand in the way of a reasonable discussion.

  96. 125

    in this moment, i give gratitude:
    to kate, for her open heart that drives her train of thought intention & expression to present a platform for dialogue, and demonstrating the power of healing, via the internet, for HEALING is what is needed in newton and every community HURTING from this unimaginable tragedy;
    to all the respondents who see their self on the inside of mental illness yet still display the courage that allows them & others similarly diagnosed, to face their fears and LIVE, in spite of the barriers real & imagined;
    to the respondents for and against the argument, for all perspectives matter & contribute to the dialogue and LOVE, the true agent of healing;
    and there are some exceptions such as mexican jamaican sergio bustamante and murfomurf demonstrating the UNIVERSAL need for dialogue to advance understanding, for there are no solutions. american media has mastered the art of cultural imperialism yet clearly, based on ‘recent’ violence in china and norway, the culture of hate is not limited to these shores. and surely this act reverberates in every small town where the vulnerable & innocent sleep, for they need protecting, don’t they? doesn’t this kind of event promote the need for arms, legal or otherwise?
    two thumbs up to david, the professional law clerk, with an essential human context to this discussion, and james & others who offered humility, for those classified as mentally ill has and will suffer most in the wake of this tragedy;
    to cal, for the enlightened response, for, among other things, i watched manchurian candidate within the last 12 months for the first time, repeatedly, and it still reverberates in my head (wink wink, nudge nudge). don’t sleep on psyche drugs;
    and five stars to mike firesmith for tickling my soul and making me LOL. raw truth always has that effect. to laugh in the face of this fear is a true instance of healing. bat – shit – crazy! which leads me to encourage all to listen to gnarls barkley’s ‘crazy’, barefoot, and dance! precisely what i plan to do before the day is done, for i have spent a lifetime trying to remember when i lost my mind only to realize it does not exist! mental illness/health is a construct, like the world trade centre towers. in the meantime, i have discovered my brain, built to last like the pyramids.
    healing our brains and our bodies is how we nurture & nourish our soul/spirit to create the opportunity for our children’s children’s children to see the pyramids, with their own eyes, before the culture of civilization consumes us all.
    thank you kate & ashley (are you kidding me)
    peace in love

  97. 128

    What do you even mean by “combat rifle”? The technology contained within those firearms is over a hundred years old. The ammunition he used wasn’t even of a high caliber.

    It’s this kind of blatant ignorance about firearms that really aggravates me. In this blog, you spend time correcting and educating people about the specific criteria and variations of mental illnesses but then seem content to generalize the vast spectrum of firearms in this way? That just isn’t rational.

    If if recall correctly, he wasn’t even using high-capacity magazines. Even if he was, the outcome wouldn’t be much different in this situation. It only takes a couple of seconds to eject a small magazine and replace it. Hell, even if he used a revolver, he could have refills already prepared.

    Don’t get me wrong, I take no issue with establishing mental health screening in order to purchase firearms. That is a rational and reasonable precaution.

    But please, please, PLEASE try not to further the misinformation surrounding the regulation of firearms.

    1. 128.1

      Er, did you miss the edit? This was written just an hour or two after the occurence–there’s a reason it’s dated.While the general points do still stand, you’re commenting on something about a week and a half late, that is, of course, less useful now, though the overarching idea of not scapegoating the mentally ill does stand.

  98. 129

    How about tying subway murders to mental illness? Erika Menendez, oops. What responsibility do people diagnosed with mental illness have to take their medications, and what happens if they don’t? The consequence of your attempt to censor discussions of mental illness can just as easily be to excuse the actions of those diagnosed with mental disabilities. Calling yourself “passionate” and “smartass” doesn’t make you right in every context.

    1. 129.1

      There are “mental illnesses” that pose no danger to anyone, medications or not. I have friends who are schizophrenics….who don’t take medication, and are not and never have been a danger to anyone, not even themselves. One works as a bioengineer, has a wife and a daughter, and the other just earned his BS in Computer science.

      Did you know anxiety is considered a mental illness? I have Social and General anxiety. I’m also agoraphobic. Yes, I might “seem” crazy to some people because at times I’m overly nervous and have trouble starting and completing tasks others do with ease. Am I dangerous? No; I’m more likely to leave a situation that bothers me and go relax somewhere than do anything to hurt anyone else.

      Most people diagnosed with a “mental illness” are not a danger to anyone. Yes, sometimes someone goes and does something we think is crazy and therefore, we assume that person must have a diagnosed mental illness; but not always. Sometimes violence is a product of a variety of factors, such as culture/upbringing/stresses. People who are not actually mentally ill, may “break” due to stress. And those people who are already diagnosed with a mental illness must suffer for what a few people have done? They must be stereotyped because people assume everything is black and white and fear what they don’t understand?

      It’s sad that so many in society are apparently mentally incapable of telling the difference. Maybe making stereotypes and fearing what they don’t understand is a sign of mental illness…

  99. 130

    Like it or not, people with a diagnosed mental illness sometimes do unpleasant things, and, like it or not, when they do, it reflects on ALL those who are seen as being mentally ill. It is simply human nature to make this kind of generalization. Americans of African descent understand this very well, which is why, when news is reported of some unpleasant crime,and the identity of the perpetrator is not yet known, they will say to one another, “Gee, I hope whoever did it wasn’t black,” because they know that if the perpetrator turns out to be black, it will reflect on every other black person in the country. ‘Tain’t fair, but ’tis the way of the world, and no amount of complaining about how unfair and illogical it is is likely to change it. Your heart’s in the right place, Ashley, but your attempts to have people not be predisposed to view the mentally ill with suspicion and misginvings, if not with outright fear, are likely doomed to failure. My assessment of the situation, however, is unlikely to deter you from continuing to fight the good fight, so carry on.

    1. 130.1

      How convenient. “Sorry, mentally ill and black people! Racism and ableism are just the way the world works!”

      Things that are never brought up when mass shooting occur:
      1) Every mass murderer has been white.
      2) Every mass murderer has been male.

      Seems like your pithy characterisation of “human nature” doesn’t actually work against the people who are in charge of the discourse, huh? Again, how convenient.

      1. “Seems like your pithy characterisation of “human nature” doesn’t actually work against the people who are in charge of the discourse, huh? Again, how convenient.” Gee, Hazel, I don’t understand what you’re trying to impart, here. Care to clarify? What people who are in charge of what discourse? How was my “pithy characterization of human nature” supposed to work against them? And if it did in fact work against them in some way of which I am unaware, to whom is that supposed to be convenient?

        1. I’m not sure what this comment was meant to achieve, but all it did was prove to everyone that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    2. 130.2

      Whether or not people jump to wrong conclusions it is certain kinds of mental illness that ARE responsible for many mass murders. Look at Colin Ferguson.
      Why are we still debating over tying Adam Lanza to mental illness when it has been proven that he suffered from MENTAL ILLNESS???

      1. You’re wrong, Leta. I know how much you would love to stigmatise the mentally ill, but the only thing Adam Lanza has been diagnosed with is autism. And that is NOT a mental illness.

        Also Colin Ferguson was never diagnosed with anything. You’re ridiculous.

        1. I, and all FOUR of my children suffer from a variety of mental illnesses. If most people responsible for mass murders were deaf would it then reflect badly on those who were blind or paralyzed? Mental illness is a HUGE subject and we are only at the very start of understanding any of it. There are as many different symptoms and varieties as physical illness. To say that Adam Lanza was not mentally ill is being purposefully ignorant.

          1. Ignorant of what? That it’s so easy to make an armchair diagnosis after someone’s death? Sorry, but this sort of prejudice isn’t welcome on a freethought website.

        2. Three points, Hazel.

          First, Colin Ferguson was in fact diagnosed with something:

          “A defense psychiatrist diagnosed Mr. Ferguson as suffering from delusional disorder, persecutory subtype, a classic psychosis well-recognized by the Bible of psychiatric disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (‘DSM’). Persons so afflicted suffer from firm, fixed, immovable, and false beliefs, colored by an overwhelming concern that people are plotting against them.” — “SO CRAZY HE THINKS HE IS SANE: THE COLIN FERGUSON TRIAL AND THE COMPETENCY STANDARD,” Kuby, Ronald L, & Kunstler, William M. (Ferguson’s one-time lawyers)

          Second, insofar as anything listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has met the standard for being deemed a mental disorder, then, yes, Autism (Autistic Disorder) is in fact a mental disorder, with the classification number 299.00. See page 70 of said manual.

          Third, the DSM does not once refer to “mental illnesses,” but makes plentiful mention of “mental disorders.” One might, of course qubble over whether “disorder” means the same thing as “illness.”

    3. 130.3


      I understand that it can be hard, sometimes near impossible to change the views held by an individual on something like this, let alone an entire society. But if no one tries; if Ashley doesn’t try, then what? Are we to let things continue as is without a fight? Do we not stand up for things we feel to be wrong?

      If everyone gave up trying to change society for the better, we’d still be a country where women and non caucasians could not vote. If no one tried to change perceptions, think of all the stereotypes from the past that would be far more rampant than they are today. No, you probably can’t completely get rid of them, but it is possible to change views enough so that fewer people suffer from the ignorance of others.

      1. And, Geogal, I wish Ashley luck in his/her (Ashley being one of those unisex names) endeavor, but I just don’t expect him/her to make much headway. The kind of generalization to which I referred seems to me to have such strong evolutionary roots as to be almost hardwired into the human psyche, which has learned to be very sensitive to any cues of possible danger, because the risk of ignoring such cues is too great. Mistake that rustling in the grass for the soughing of the wind when it’s really a stalking predator, take no protective action, and you’re dead. Mistake that rustling in the grass for a stalking predator when it’s really the soughing of the wind and you run when there’s no real need to run, but you’re nonetheless safe and alive. “Mental illness” is the rustling in the grass that could either, on rare occasions, indicate a potential for dangerous interpersonal violence, but more often does not. Most people, however, will err on the side of personal safety, and interpret the presence of what they think is mental illness in another human being, as a cue that they should take immediate steps to put some distance, either geographical or emotional, between themselves and such a person.

          1. “Conway, you’re an idiot.”

            As evidenced by what, exactly, Hazel? If you have a sensible rebuttal of what I’ve written, let’s hear it. In my experience when a discussant starts calling other discussants names, the discussant engaging in the name-calling is pretty much saying simply, and rudely, “I disagree with you, but am at a loss to tell you why.” And THAT is not flattering to you, Hazel.

        1. Hardwired? Hardly. Some cultures view those with a “mental illness” as people with magical powers, or to be revered. It’s not hardwired, it’s subject to culture.

          Besides that, mental illness applies to a very broad spectrum of individuals. Anxiety is considered a mental illness, yet I, a person with social and general anxiety, am not a predator of any sort; I am not dangerous to anyone. People do more to create their own problems by how they view and treat others based upon preconceived notions of another, than that other originally would have created on their own. You it seems, are a perfect example. I am ashamed to live in a world where there are those who can form such broadly sweeping opinions of that which they do not understand.

          1. My point, Geogal, would be that in such cultures as the ones to which you refer, people who, from OUR perspective, might be termed “mentally ill,” are NOT viewed as being “mentally ill”, but rather as shamans, or something like that, with skills and special insights useful to the culture and, are, as you said, revered. But I submit that if there are people in those same cultures whose behavior has come to be associated, however flimsily, with dangerousness, those people are likely to be treated with fear, hatred, and cruelty, as has happened recently in Africa to people, mostly women, believed to be “witches.”

            Your point about the wide range of problems subsumed under the term “mental illness” is well-taken, but let me remind you that the so-called “Bible” of the psychological/psychiatric professions, the DSM of the American Psychiatric Association, does not speak of “mental illness,” but rather of “mental disorder,” a somewhat less pejorative term, perhaps, but probably not enough less pejorative enough to suit you. In any event, I don’t think anyone is claiming that a person with an anxiety disorder is likely to be dangerous, at least not to others. But some folks with such severe distortions in their perceptions of reality, such as Colin Ferguson and Mark Yavorksy (q.v.), have shown themselves indeed to be dangerous. Unfortunately, it is all too often only after the fact that exactly how dangerous they are is discovered, because, to date, attempts to PREDICT violent behavior, absent an actual history of same, have failed, and have sometimes resulted in depriving some individuals of their liberty, via civil commitment, who really did not need to be so deprived. I fear that in the wake of Newtown, we may see an uptick in such injustices.

            Finally, I admit to being stung by your assessment that I am one of “those who can form broadly sweeping opinions of that which they do not understand,” since I have been working in the field of mental health as a licensed psycholgist, in both outpatient and closed/locked inpatient settings, for 42 years, and had deluded myself, I guess, that I have developed at least some minor understanding of these matters. Please note that at no point have I condoned the stigmatizing of those labeled as being exemplars of a “mental disorder,” but have only offered an explanation of the psychological mechanisms underlying such stigmatization, and have expressed my skepticism that those mechanisms will be easily overridden by exhortation, no matter how well-meaning and passionate. .

  100. 132

    Diagnoses is just a formality, Hazel. SOME of us understand that people who kill multiple strangers for no reason that has anything to do with those victims is missing a conscience and therefore part of his humanity. I like to call that crazy – mentally ill or not.

  101. 133

    If I have chicken pox then is it cancer too? Mental illness can be compared to physical illness in which there are a zillion things to go wrong and they are all different plus they effect people differently. I am not blaming depressed people (for example) for mass murders. It is YOU who are painting all of us with some variety of mental illness with the same brush.
    Yes, I think I can rationally conclude that anyone who kills a bunch of absolute strangers is missing a few beans.
    Good day , mum.

  102. 135

    I find all this talk of gun control and mental illness to be very concerning as excluding gun ownership based on mental health has been a tactic used by many rulers/countries to limit people’s rights. Do we base it on the lists of mental disorders which happen to include sleep, eating, learning, etc? Who knows what “condition” will end up being classified as a mental illness. Reason and logic seem to be lost when discussing this issue.

  103. 136

    You are a beautiful person and a rational thinker. Both are rare, in my 60 years of experience. I was diagnosed and involuntarily committed for 20 hours for dissing a cop. I’m a professional, have an M.A., and had never had a diagnosis nor an arrest nor any problem whatsoever. Now I am on NCIS lists and god knows where. I’ve been told by experts that I can be re-committed on a whim. I believe it because no psych challenged the cop. Who challenges the psychs? No one, that’s who.

    I’ll send you the graphic memoir my husband is doing when it is finished and I hope you’ll help me get it distributed to like-minded activists.

    Love and peace,

  104. 137

    My friend of 13 years says she understands I suffer from bipolar and then on another note she says I’m too much medication. But then it seems sometimes she takes no regard as to how iI feel when she says she thinks I don’t need my ambien or hardly any of my medicine. I just get so aggravated sometimes by people who don’t understand. It seems Luke the only time I feel at home and not alone is when I’m in a hospital and that’s because there are those who are there that are suffering just like me.

  105. 141

    I agree with what you say. Too many people want to label one and all as mentally ill if they don’t understand someone’s actions. Too many believe that “mentally ill” means dangerous. That’s not true, some are, most aren’t and we as a society should treat it like any other disease, with help, understanding and compassion. I get very tired of people blaming violence on “schizophrenia”. Treated and controlled, someone with schizophrenia or most other mental illness is no more dangerous than any one else and perfectly able to lead a normal and productive life. People know so little about the affects of disease on the body and mind. Many people do not know that someone who has had a stroke can become psychotic, but we don’t label stroke victims mentally ill just because of a symptom. To tie any violent act to mental illness does an injustice to the act, the abuser, the perpetrator, the victim as well as any and all affected. I feel we traumatize the victims MORE by over analyzing how they SHOULD react, thus making the situation worse. As for gun control and mental illness, if there’s any real evidence that violence is directly related to mental illness I’d really like to read that.

  106. 142

    Natural Anxiety Panic Attack Management – Mitral
    Valve Prolapse. Suppose it were left to your conscious mind to decide
    whether to cross or not. I decided to write an article about anxiety because it not only effect millions of people
    but it also effects us in relationships.

  107. 147

    Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is great, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness & .

  108. 148

    But in the last few years, IPTV has dwarfed the quality of DVD and Cable TV.
    With this much controversy clinging on its name,
    it should come as no surprise that several from the world’s police force authorities are already looking for ways to shut it down for good.
    The most enjoyable facet of Revenge with the Fallen is its sheer familiarity.

  109. 149

    Having read this I believed it was very enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this content together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  110. 151

    […] And then there’s the speculation about the gunman himself, the terrorist who did this.  White people on television are already speculating that he was mentally ill, that one must be mentally ill to do this kind of thing.  It is possible that he was mentally ill, but his mental illness is not the cause of this.  The fact that he is full of hatred for a kind of people is why he did this — even if he was an atheist who killed a bunch of Christians and not a white guy who killed a lot of black people, he was motivated by hate, not by mental illness.  Speculating that it’s mental illness only makes it harder for those who need help to seek it, and it doesn’t even make sense.  Please read my former co-blogger Kate Donovan’s piece on the subject. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *