No, I’m not talking about the value of the Canadian dollar (over parity!), but the American National Rifle Association’s (NRA) call for a national registry of the mentally ill after the Newtown shooting. Resisting requests for stricter gun control, Wayne Lapierre from the NRA blamed gun violence on the inability of the National Instant Check System to “screen out one of those lunatics”.
The political battle on gun control has been debated extensively in recent weeks. This brief post will focus on the simplistic clustering of people of various forms and levels of mental illness and the derogatory casting of these people as “lunatics” who require special monitoring. Lapierre talked of “an unknown number of genuine monsters - people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them.”
Many people may doubt that they can ever comprehend Lapierre, who wants to put armed guards in schools. (Columbine had armed guards.) While I cringe at the ignorant slur, my concern is not about being politically correct. My worry is that the demonization of a diverse group of people as deranged criminals-in-waiting may further discriminate and marginalize those in need of mental health services, and also lead to ineffective violence-prevention strategies.
Some point out that quite a few mass shooters in the last few years were mentally ill, even though the Newtown shooter’s alleged Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder rather than mental illness, and it is not associated with violence. Moreover, most people with exactly the same profiles as mass shooters do not commit violent crimes. Making people with mental illness scapegoats ignore that mental illness describes a very broad range of conditions, ranging from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, eating disorder, schizophrenia, border-line personality disorder, and more. (Just imagine calling the survivors of the Newtown shooting, who may now suffer from PTSD, lunatics.) The type, intensity and duration of symptoms vary among people, but it is noteworthy that people with mental illness are more often victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Patients with severe mental illness commit 5% of violent crimes, with the risks being higher for patients with schizophrenia and bipolar when other non-clinical or socio-environmental factors are at play. So, most crimes are not committed by people with mental illness. In fact, people with no mental disorder who abuse alcohol or drugs are reportedly nearly seven times as likely as those without substance abuse to commit violent acts. Why don’t we return to prohibition? Things have been so much calmer in Vancouver during the NHL lockout. Now we may need to brace ourselves once again…
Most homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people with access to deadly weapons in the grip of rage. Certainly, mental health is a multi-dimensional public health issue, and we need to help families, schools, and the general public recognize potential signs of increasing disturbance and to provide access to treatments for those who experience such disturbance. However, stigmatization and demonization most likely would discourage those who can benefit from seeking help. It would also conveniently neglect the roles we all play in the culture of violence.
A reader of an earlier blogpost said we should solve the world’s problems and move on. So my questions for you are: how might we change the culture of violence? And what would be some plausible ways to promote better understanding and treatment of people with mental illness?
Lunacy, Prohibition, Vancouver Riot
Lunacy, Prohibition, Vancouver Riot