Many times, after a mass shooting, the shooter commits suicide before the police can even speak to him or her. We base our obscure diagnoses on accounts from those who knew them, and personal writings same as accounts. We say that they must have been sick, for no one with a “healthy” mind could have done something so terrible (although I haven’t seen too many psychological analyses of international terrorists recently). And although it is hard to argue that it is unfair to label the perpetrator, these vague claims of “mental illness” certainly have horrible implications for society as a whole.
Donald Trump, in a statement responding to the shooting in Oregon, said that people with mental illness will “come through the cracks” and commit horrible atrocities regardless of national gun restrictions.
I cannot help but picture a zombie movie, with all of the creatures clawing their way out of the ground and coming to suck our blood (or whatever zombies do). Is this the narrative we will apply to the 26.2 percent of Americans estimated to be suffering from a diagnosable mental illness? Is this what we want to tell a young college student suffering from depression or schizophrenia — that there is something egregiously wrong with him or her?
Regardless of what the policy focus is, be it healthcare or gun laws, the automatic association made between mental illness and violent actions is both unwarranted and insulting.
Even in a speech meant to turn blame away from mental illness and toward gun lobbying, President Obama did not deny that the shooter was mentally ill. We as a nation are constantly perpetuating the idea that all “crazy” actions can be linked back to a diagnosable illness, despite the fact that this isn’t necessarily true.
But it is more harmful in the way that it leads to continued misunderstanding of people with psychiatric disorders and how they operate in society. One-fourth of America is certainly not comprised of a bunch of people with a desire to murder others. It is comprised of a diverse collection of problems, struggles, emotions and solutions that few Americans have internalized.
If we keep responding to every violent action with “he’s probably crazy,” then they never will internalize it.