America, we need to talk. Specifically, we need to talk in more meaningful ways and be more intentional with our words. After the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history by a domestic terrorist in Las Vegas over the weekend leaving 58 people dead and hundreds injured, the scapegoating began. Outraged Americans needed someone or something to blame and it just couldn’t be guns. So the public began speculating about the domestic terrorist’s mental health, even though at the time of this writing (10-3/17) ZERO evidence of a mental health condition has been reported. Others scapegoated those with mental health conditions with the age old “dangerous, violent crazy people” myth.
When unfathomable things occur, it is difficult for humans to make sense of choices that destroy lives. Human nature is such that when people don’t know the answers, they make up the answers. Even answers with no factual basis. The problem: asking a marginalized group to carry the collective outrage for a nation. Living with a mental health condition is challenging enough: the ways in which it may affect a person, the dance of medication or not, the energy levels, the disrupted sleep or sleeping too much, the side effects, the co-occurring physical challenges – the list goes on and on.
And then there is the stigma. The self-stigma is hard enough. The stigma of feeling as though our mental health conditions rob us of potential, of quality of life, of earning capability, and often, years of life. But the even more devastating stigma is the collective outrage from the uninformed public when violence occurs.
One of the comments I heard from someone I know when I called him out on his choice of words was “I call it mental illness because who in their RIGHT mind could pull off such evil?” When I advised that language matters because that statement blames MILLIONS of nonviolent and innocent people who live with mental health conditions, he responded with “Oh well”. I advised that he needs a bigger vocabulary and a thesaurus.
So America, listen up! At the time of this writing (10/3/17 10:14 AM -5 GST). the population of the United States is 325,055,862 and growing. Since one in four persons in the U.S. will develop a mental health challenge in his or her lifetime, that means that under this flawed “dangerous and violent mentally ill persons” theory and the stigmatizing scapegoating that accompanies it, that 81,263,965 people are as guilty as one domestic terrorist. Sound messed up? It is. (Population source: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/)
More resources on gun violence and mental health with multiple sources:
Mass Shootings and Mental Illness via psychiatryonline.org
Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms via National Institute of Health
As a mental health educator and a person with lived experience with mental health challenges, can we please STOP with the stigmatizing bias of jumping to this conclusion WITHOUT EVIDENCE every time violence occurs? Those with mental health conditions are in fact, more likely to be VICTIMS of violence than perpetrators. Stop making millions of people carry the burden for your anger. Take it from this Mental Health 1st Aid facilitator, Certified Peer Support Specialist, and Wellness Recovery Action Planning Facilitator. Stop playing into stigma. Does the mental health system (specifically access to services) need to be improved? Absolutely!
Let me tell a little story to put this into a bit of perspective from lived experience. I am a trauma survivor (child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault). Some at cane point, some with fists, and some at knife point, some at gunpoint. As a result of that violence being perpetrated upon my personhood, I live with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and a high startle response.
I have heard many times over the years that I should get a gun “for protection”. Yet, even though that is my civil right, I don’t because that is an unacceptable liability for a person like me who startles easily. That is pretty much a sure way to have an accidental, but completely preventable death on my hands. Therein lays the rub for me. Is there sometimes mental illness in a domestic terrorists’ history? Sometimes. And in many other cases, we will never know because the domestic terrorist kills him or herself.
Sometimes, having a civil right doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for a person to exact that civil right. And until we as a nation are ready to face the fact that guns are very easily accessed, that supposed background checks and safeguards aren’t doing enough, that our politicians have been bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association and can only muster “thoughts and prayers” vs. meaningful action, mass acts of domestic terrorism will continue. The handwringing will continue, the scapegoating will continue, and needless deaths of innocent persons will continue.
81,263,965 people deserve not to have to carry that yoke of collective outrage and governmental inaction.