Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mental Health: Is That Deep Enough?

After determining that gun control, while it may succeed in saving some lives when done properly, is only a superficial solution, it is only natural to move on to the next topic so often discussed after mass shootings, mental health. This is a topic that I have some firsthand experience in having worked in the Mental Health field for the last four years. I can tell you firsthand that mental illness is a very real problem, often ignored by society, and as a Christian and minister, I can tell you that it is not just a cover up for demonic possession. Mental Illness is a real disease and needs to be treated like any other disease and also like any other disease, the individual should not be defined by their diagnosis. Our treatment methods are not where they need to be but they are miles ahead of where we were even 20 years ago. With this in mind, let's explore how mental illness relates to the mass shootings.

Each Shooter Seems to Have a Diagnosis:

One thing that has stood out to me in these stories is that in each story they mention some sort of mental illness in relation to the shooter. Some of them seem to have had the diagnosis for years but it was never treated. This brings us to the question of why was it ignored and how did they get the gun when they were diagnosed with a mental illness. But to me the bigger question seems to be with the other shooters. There are some shooters where they had no diagnosis their entire life and then after committing this act all of sudden people are diagnosing them with various mental illnesses. So was society completing missing that these people were mentally ill or is society fishing for an explanation to a senseless act and using mental illness to do so? Either way are we helping by bringing this diagnosis into the story?

The Stigma Against Mental Illness Increases: 

There is a truth in the thought that if we bring a problem to light we can better address it and find a solution. This is probably what people are thinking when they focus on the mental state of each of these shooters, however I feel there is something else happening. The majority of society probably has not met anyone with a mental health diagnosis. They may have known someone with depression but probably not anything beyond that. That means when we run stories about shooters who are diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Schizoaffective, or even severe, chronic depression most people have no other frames of reference for these diagnoses. I personally have the benefit of knowing several people who have been diagnosed with these various illnesses and are very functional. They are people who care about others and are looking to simply increase their independence and capabilities. Some are working or going to school right along with the rest of us and very few of them pose any risk to society. However, most people do not have this privilege. For many people when they hear that someone has schizophrenia they immediately think of the mass shooters. This then makes it harder for anyone with such a diagnosis to integrate in the community because the community is scared of them. They then feel isolated and alone making it more likely for them to lash out... and yet the majority still don't.

Is Mental Illness Really the Problem?

This has to be the question that we ultimately come to: Is Mental Illness really the problem? I do believe that society as a whole would improve if we were better able to reach out to those with mental illness, however I still think there are deeper issues here when it comes to the mass shootings. I believe that when we put it all on mental illness it further increases the stigma of society on mental illness while missing out on the true problems in our society.  

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