Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mental Illness vs. Terrorist

The aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings are everywhere. Nothing has received this much media attention since hurricane Katrina. It's very unsettling to see what is being covered, too. It can be summed up with two major issues - mental illness and gun control.

I have something to say about mental illness.

This incident is not about mental illness! If it becomes about that, we just went 20 years back in advocating for the rights of those with mental illness. Cho Seung-Hui is no representation of mental illness. He is a representation of terrorism. He had guns, an elaborate plan, and believed himself to be a martyr. This was a suicide bombing, except that it was carried out by an individual rather than an organization.

So doesn't the fact that Cho was delusional in his beliefs make him "psychotic"? The 911 terrorists believed they would be greeted by virgins after crashing into the Twin Towers. They believed they would be honored as martyrs and that they were saviors to those who had been victimized by Americans. Why aren't they called "psychotic?" Cho's thinking was very dark and evil, and I see no difference in the way terrorists think.

Our need for a scapegoat in the face of tragedy is more apparent in this situation than in any other that I've seen since the Iraqi war. The only one to blame is Cho! But since he's dead, the need for a scapegoat remains. So let's just make one up. How about something really convenient, like the mentally ill?

Oh great. Bring on the stigma. Like we need more.

The more the media makes it about mental illness, the more rights of those with mental illness are jeopardized. Our rights are always in jeopardy as it is. People with mental illness should not have to be the scapegoats of an evil terrorist!

This is the only thing I've read so far that comes close to what I'm saying:


Mental health professionals are concerned this massacre may imply people to believe mentally ill people are violent when in fact most are not. "It shines a light in a way that only reinforces ignorance and discrimination, and so I'm very concerned about that," David Shern of Mental Health America said.


Statistically, the population who are considered mentally ill are far less violent than the general population and are far more prone to be victims of violence. This is a known fact.

But when someone who commits a violent crime has also been diagnosed with a mental illness, the media jumps on it. It makes the story more sensational. What about violent criminals who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness? Are they sane? What is mental illness in the face of violence?

Those who hadn't been diagnosed simply had not sought treatment within the mental health system. Those who enter the mental health system get a diagnosis - for insurance purposes if nothing else. And it's so easy to diagnose the average person who walks through those doors. The DSM has everyone covered. It takes so-called "abnormal" human behaviors and places them into categories. If your behaviors fit a specific category, you get a diagnosis, and if it doesn't quite fit a category, there are wastebasket diagnoses to cover it. The term is NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). Getting a diagnosis has nothing to do with being violent, although violent behaviors, just like all "abnormal" behaviors, have their DSM categories, too. The DSM does not discriminate.

The truth is, nobody knows for sure what causes this kind of violence. Theories are abundant, and much damage can come from theory alone.

Much damage has already come from theory alone.

I need to stop watching the news. But I want to understand. I want to cry my eyes out and gain a perspective I can live with. I want to honor the families and light a candle and see the faces of those who died so I know who I'm honoring. I want to hear about the courageous stories. I want to feel hope for those who can't feel it right now. I don't want to hear about Cho's bout with "mental illness" or see his videos or hear his words. The last thing I want to do at this point is see his face and honor his dying wishes all over the media. The current media massacre is simply honoring a man who deserves no such thing.

The families of those who were shot have my heart. The students who are heading back to school on Monday have my compassion. My brother died of a gun accident when he was 35. It was incredibly difficult to process because it seemed like such a senseless tragedy. This was just one man and one gun where no terrorism was involved, and it was one of the toughest times of my life. I can only imagine what the families in Virginia are going through.

What about their mental health? Let's not overshadow their pain and fear and uncertainty with the pain and anger of some evil terrorist! Those students need us now. Cho Seung-Hui doesn't need anybody. He never did.


Anonymous said...

Jayme!!!! My hope and wish is that you will send THIS message (your blog entry) to the newspapers and mass media. You wrote sooo from the heart and with reason and with understanding.
I have struggled terribly with what to write about this whole mess - but you have put into words what I have only been able to wrestle with. THANK YOU for engaging us with your thoughts, reflections, and honesty.

Jayme said...

Thank you, Sue! I understand your struggle to gain a perspective and put it into words. This was a difficult post to write because I had to use words while something like this goes far beyond words.

Anonymous said...

My psychiatrist said, "This is someone that could have been helped."

It is my natural instinct to call this evil, and it is my human heart that believes that our society teaches such behavior and we are all victims of a capitolistic culture that glamourizes violence. Reducing the stigma of a man being singled out as different, may have changed things. Many people have homocidal thoughts or phrases that they use everyday, but never act. There are many individuals that are loners, not interested in others, that still make valuable contributions to society.

Could we not reach out to such individuals and at least let them know that they are not alone. Could not the stigma of sending someone to forced treatment been a stressor in this incident? A stressor that led Cho to model the behavior that we see everywhere on TV, in movies, and on the news. Can we not reduce stigma of being different in our culture, can we not reduce the violence we sell in our society?

This incident will send shockwaves of trauma to many that have been victims of preditors for years to come. May we all heal, the families and our society.

Don Grey said...

Hi Jayme, thanks for the post I totally see your point.

I posted an article by Dr Breggin on my blog which I think bears a lot of truth.

It's a little different to yours but still down the same line.

I did another post about psychiatric drugging and of the school shooters, I would love a comment back from you and a different viewpoint.

Bob said...

Well spoken as usual Jaymie. Mental illness is a broad label that is conveniently slapped on whatever or whoever the slapper sees fit. Cho needed some love, compassion, and someone to talk to that could help him recognize his Stinking Thinking. Whether that would have helped we will never know. But like the columbine shooters I think I heard he too had been bullied and belittled.