Homemental healthMental Health and Mass Shootings

If you’re in the US, you’ve already heard about the shooting in Santa Barbara. The shooter, a young man, was angered that women wouldn’t accept his advances and envious of men who did manage to get in relationships. His motives are clear. He left a trail of videos and internet postings to that flavor.

School shootings don’t happen only
in the US. This memorial is in honor of
those who died in a Russian shooting.
An emotional disorder was blamed in
this one, too.
By Dmitry Rozhkov (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia

There are so many different angles to this story, and to all mass shootings, which must be addressed. The misogyny in this one is blatant enough that the internet has blown up about the topic. Many people, women and men alike, are calling out the rape culture in which we live. Others, only men as far as I’ve seen, are lauding this guy as a hero.

I’ll probably write more about the feminist angle in my new blog, Reading, Writing and Life, but here, I want to address how mental health problems are too often blamed for these acts.

Yesterday, my husband and I were watching the local news. We only watch for the weather forecasts, but since they don’t always air on time, we end up watching the whole program. I tend not to rely on local channels for any sort of in depth information. (I explain why and how I get my news here.)

I had mentioned the shooting to my husband and talked a little about this guy’s fixation on women shortly before the story came on. It got maybe a five minute spot, and the only things the newscasters mentioned were the death toll at the time, the guy’s description, a heavily edited clip from his last video and that he was mentally ill.

There was absolutely nothing else to the story. That leads viewers to assume that his only motive was his emotional state. In the bigger picture, stories like that further cement the stigma that people who suffer from mental illness are dangerous.

If you look up past stories, like Newtown and Columbine, you’ll see mental illness blamed repeatedly. Attention isn’t paid to other issues, and if it is, attention is drawn away for various reasons. We’re still given the idea that mental health is the only motive that counts.

Any thinking person knows that painting a large group of individuals with such a broad brush causes unspeakable harm. There’s a massive variety of emotional/mental disorders out there, and the vast majority of the sufferers are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than perpetrators.

That. Must. Be. Emphasized.

The vast majority of mental illness sufferers are NOT dangerous.

Instead of listening to the implication made by stories like the one we caught, let’s take a hard look at the different aspects of incidences of mass violence.

A good place to start is our tendency to reduce every single event to one single reason. Too often, mental illness is the scapegoat for all kinds of things, whether it’s violence, harassment or any other decision we don’t agree with.

In reality, events like this one are far more complicated than we want to admit. Every single one is different, but since this one just happened, I’ll use it as an example.

Did the shooter’s mental/emotional state play a role? It could have. Was that the only reason behind it? Absolutely not.

Here are a couple of things I’ve picked up about the guy from the articles I’ve read:

  • He had an attitude of entitlement towards women, which gave him justification for his actions in his mind.
  • He surrounded himself with like-minded people on the internet, many of who are now supporting his actions and putting out messages like the ones collected here. (There’s some cursing involved, just FYI.)
  • He lives in a culture which reinforces that attitude. (Again, see the link in the above point. Also, check out the #YesAllWomen tag on twitter and ihollaback.org.)
  • He had relatively easy access to guns and ammo. (Here are the basic requirements to buy a gun in California, where the shooting took place.)
  • He had some extremely racist viewpoints, which may have added to the violence – especially against his roommates and their guest.

I’m sure there’s much more to his background which contributed to his actions.

To discount all of those factors in favor of blaming only one aspect is to ignore massive problems within the western culture. When that aspect is mental illness, you’re also slowing progress towards a healthier life for a huge number of people.

Take a step back, get info from assorted news sources and think about the environment in which these things happen. Getting a bigger picture view will help us figure out the right steps to take in rectifying the multitude of causes behind these horrid acts of violence.

At the very least, do your research about the huge number of mental illnesses out there, read the works of people who suffer from a variety of disorders and offer your support to any loved ones who may need it.


Mental Health and Mass Shootings — 2 Comments

  1. I am like you as I turn on the news for weather and traffic, and off it goes as it is really sad and nerve wracking. Such a tragedy, and it really shows how many are suffering out there, and how we have to work together to make some kind of changes to prevent these types of tragedies. Why, now? So sad.

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