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Editorials

It’s about 2 things: mental health and guns

The Newtown school shooting. It’s a tragedy that a mass shooting requires a qualifier, but this is America so we need to be specific as not to be confused with Aurora, Columbine, Arizona, or Virginia Tech. Colorado massacres require a site specific qualifier.

There are 2 common elements with all these massacres: mental illness and guns (not hunting rifles, but firearms designed to cause maximin human carnage in the shortest amount of time).
And both deserve our attention.

Mental illness, because people who commit mass murder have some mental health condition found in a psychiatric textbook. They are either schizophrenic, psychotic, or sociopaths. The 1st two have treatment the last one, not so much.

Most people can spot someone who is psychotic or a schizophrenic who is decompensating. Odd stares, strange behavior, paranoia. Come walk with me in San Francisco, for many sleep on the streets and during the day they wave at bugs that don’t exist, rock back and forth to sooth unseen demons, and have shouting matches with invisible adversaries. They are desperately in need of mental health care, but for some reason can’t get it. Lack of insurance, marginalization, stigma, drugs, fear of the system, homelessness, lack of money to pay for treatment as many psychiatrists don’t accept insurance, paranoia, or the fact that they have to be an immediate danger to themselves or others to be forcibly treated.

Not everyone can spot a sociopath. They blend and ooze among humanity. Chameleons of destruction that look like the guy next door. On a small scale they cause contained mayhem, but if they are so inclined they could become the next Ted Bundy or Jim Jones. There is no treatment for sociopaths, although who knows if we had a better way to identify them early and start behavioral therapy?

While it is true that almost anything can be weaponized, Jones used poisoned Kool-Aid, modern day massacres on American soil involve guns. We don’t know whether the killer in Newton was schizophrenic, psychotic for some reason (there are several causes) or a sociopath, but we do know he had access to weapons of carnage. Had he been armed with a kitchen knife and an axe he would have not breached the security system, but even if he had he would have been stopped with far less loss of life.

Ask yourself, do you want someone descending into mental illness who is rapidly loosing their grip on reality or a sociopath careening out of control to have access to a semi-automatic weapon?

We need to fix the way we treat mental illness in America. We must remove the stigma and the barriers to care as well as research better treatment options. We also need to eradicate weapons that have the sole purpose of killing people with efficiency. These are not mutually exclusive discussions.

If we don’t do something, we’ll just keep asking ourselves, “How could this happen,” when we all know the answer. This happens because as a society we choose to let it happen and until we do something about it we will all continue to pay the price, some more than others.

Discussion

10 thoughts on “It’s about 2 things: mental health and guns

  1. As always, insightful and thought provoking. (aside: pretty sure it’s NewtoWn, for what it’s worth…) Thanks for posting!

    Posted by nerdmommathfun | December 16, 2012, 1:31 pm
  2. Very well said, Jennifer! Thank you!

    Posted by Cindy | December 16, 2012, 1:38 pm
  3. A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens.

    The attack in the Henan province village of Chengping happened shortly before 8 a.m., said a police officer from Guangshan county, where the village is located.

    http://news.ca.msn.com/world/china-stabbing-spree-hurts-22-schoolchildren

    Posted by Ben Rush | December 16, 2012, 1:59 pm
  4. Thanks, Jen. I appreciate your insights.

    Posted by anjie | December 16, 2012, 2:06 pm
  5. It’s true that it’s very hard to treat antisocial personality disorder in adults and conduct disorder in kids. There are treatments, however. A pub med search on both topics will provide examples of intensive cognitive behavioral interventions. To gain societal benefit from these treatments, we need to support them financially and politically.

    There are also universal prevention methods that have been developed and tested. They will also require political and community support in order to be truly “universal” interventions. One encouraging thing to check out is — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22003425 This is an article about the Good Behavior Game which is a first and second grade classroom intervention that is correlated with significantly lower rates of drug and alcohol use disorders, regular smoking, antisocial personality disorder, delinquency and incarceration for violent crimes and suicide ideation in kids 15 years after they were exposed to the good behavior game.

    Posted by aduncan | December 16, 2012, 3:51 pm
  6. These are steps going in the right direction. I’m for legal gun possession, but we don’t need access to the enormous variety of “automatic” and “semi-automatic” weapons available legally. And the Good Behavior Game is also hitting the problem at the head. But what no one wants to say, which is even more at the head, but difficult to find solutions to (due to scope) is that society is losing it’s cohesion. We aren’t a “society” any more. I remember learning that the family was the basic unit of a society, and this unit has broken apart. Two working parents, single parents, no parents, etc., so who is taking care of the kids? And don’t talk to me about “quality time”. Kids need “time”! Period. No relationship whether a couple, child-parent, or friendship can develop or develop well without “time”. And oh yes, the taboo, potically incorrect “moral” aspect. Our so called society values little the family or those in the services of supporting the family (social workers, teachers, church, etc.). This is very evident in their salaries, lack of training, change desire to go into these professions, etc. And government, where is the “govern”ment? If you pass laws, who enforces? (Run a mock banking system, building code, school security and staffing, and on and on I could go.) Yes, meds and guns, not a bad starting place, but the real place to begin is to reconstruct (or better construct) a society that values families (whatever their form) and that includes promoting the moral values necessary to build a society (love, unity, brotherhoos, citizenship, etc.) It’s time to value less “individual” freedoms and more the freedoms that promote the “group” (not I said “less” not abolish.)

    Posted by JL | December 17, 2012, 12:10 am
    • Interesting angle. I think I kind of agree. There’s a real racket going on though, as most families have to have two working parents simply to get along financially today. Then you get into a conversation about wage stagnation, income inequality, and executive pay. It’s a big beast to get your arms around, the whole thing.

      We are also a society that lionizes violence, which is kind of a separate problem.

      Posted by womenriseupnow | December 20, 2012, 10:05 pm

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